Ocean ghosts:

Today I will be looking into one of the biggest killers in our ocean¹.

But before I go on, I’d like you all to watch this video:

Sad isn’t it? We think that once the fish are caught that’s the end of the fishing, but it isn’t. Ghost nets can remain in the water for years, possibly centuries, depending on their design. They don’t just catch fish and sea creatures though, they have occasionally caught divers³ too. The worst is, the more it catches the more that are tempted in, and the nets rarely become too full, as when the weight is too great, they can sink where they’re picked clean by bottom dwellers, and then float back to the surface to repeat the process all over again. The only good news is that the longer the nets are there the more tangled they become which can limit the amount of entanglement they cause². The worse ones are buoy nets as they will definitely float back to the surface.

It isn’t just the organisms they catch but also the habitats they destroy, ghost nets can suffocate coral reefs⁶, which in turn then destroys the ecosystem that they support, breaking down whole food chains and life cycles.

So why do people abandon their nets? Some are simply lost in storms or bad weather, but there are some which when they become damaged are just abandoned where they are⁵. Or there is illegal fishing, snagged lines, there are lots of reasons it happens. But we can limit the issue.

Divers all over the world can take part in ocean cleans, to remove ghost nets, this group work globally with different diving organisations and charities to save our oceans. They don’t just remove the ghost nets though, they collect marine litter, recycle what they collect, document situations and educate, and it all started with a group of wreck divers. So never believe that you and your club couldn’t make a difference.

You don’t just have to be a diver though, snorkelers, boaters, just normal swimmers can help too. But please don’t get yourself injured on the way, make sure you’re in a group and other people know what is happening. If you see a trapped animal make sure you’re not in danger from it.

It’s working too, there is now legislation to try and reduce the amount of ghost nets in the water, new gear has markers so it can be linked to a specific fishing group, there is more technology to prevent gear being lost or from sinking to the seabed. They have even redesigned fishing gear so it degrades easier⁴. New biodegradable fishing nets should begin to degrade within two years⁵, which means after that time the net will have lost most of its ability to catch marine organisms, and if it does the could break free much easier⁵.

Small steps forward to safer healthier oceans, but steps all the same. Why not take part?

Lauren x


  1. Mission blue. (2013) GHOST NETS, AMONG THE GREATEST KILLERS IN OUR OCEANS… http://mission-blue.org/2013/05/ghost-nets-among-the-greatest-killers-in-our-oceans/ (Accessed: 22 February 2016)
  2. Dunagan, C.(2000) The net effect: trouble The Sun, May 4th 2000,
  3. Esteban, M. (2002) Tracking Down Ghost Nets http://www.eurocbc.org/page54.html 21/02/16
  4. Gilman, E. (2015). ‘Status of international monitoring and management of abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear and ghost fishing‘, Marine Policy, 60, pp. 225-239.
  5. An, H. Kim, S. Kim, P. Lim, J. and Surronen, P. (2016) ‘Use of biodegradable driftnets to prevent ghost fishing: physical properties and fishing performance for yellow croaker’, Animal conservation, pp. 1-11.
  6. Goldberg, J. Gunn, R. Hardesty, B.D. Heathcote, G. Peel, D. and Wilcox, C. (2015) ‘Understanding the sources and effects of abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear on marine turtles in northern Australia’, Conservation biology, 29(1), pp. 198-206
  7. Feature image

The Not-So-Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a myriad collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water. 

So for example, plastic litter we throw on the ground such as plastic rings from cans of drink, food packaging and plastic bottles all inevitably end up in our oceans where currents and wind carry it into the biggest ocean gyre on planet Earth. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative concentrations of ‘pelagic’ plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.

An ocean gyre is a system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth’s windpatterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet, and the video below discusses the butterfly effect of how an individual’s littering habits can contribute to a much more catastrophic issue.

Charles J. Moore discovered the Great Pacific Garbage patch in 1997 while returning to southern California after finishing the Los Angeles-to-Hawaii Transpac sailing race. He and his crew caught sight of trash floating in the North Pacific Gyre, one of the most remote regions of the ocean. He wrote articles about the extent of this garbage, and the effects on sea life, which attracted significant attention in the media and let to his 1999 study that showed there was six times more plastic in this part of the ocean than the zooplankton that feeds ocean life.

“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean,” Moore later wrote in an essay for Natural History, “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” An oceanographic colleague of Moore’s dubbed this floating junk yard “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”


The problem with the accumulation of plastics in this gyre is that plastic is non biodegradable. It simply breaks into smaller pieces over time without degrading. This means that the garbage patch will be here for thousands upon thousands of years. A lot of this garbage patch is made up of a microplastic soup – this can’t be seen by satellites, but the cloudy water is made up of tiny microplastics that are fatal to marine life.

So how can we help this absolutely catastrophic issue? First of all, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so far from any country’s coastline that no nation will take responsibility ir provide funding to clean it up – the sailor who discovered the vortex, Charles Moore, says that cleaning up the patch would “bankrupt any country that tried it.” However, many individuals  and international organisations are dedicated to preventing it from growing even more, such as The Ocean Cleanup.

You can help by donating to The Ocean Cleanup HERE.


I don’t ‘ship’ shipping…


Shipping is a huge industry as it’s hugely important for trade between countries – over 90% of global trade is done by cargo ships. With around 50,000 merchant ships it’s no surprise there is an issue with them causing marine pollution issues. If you think that one massive container ship is equal to 50 million cars then you should be able to imagine the huge amount of fumes and other pollutants it must be emitting to the atmosphere and our oceans!

How the ships release pollution:

  • Release of oil and chemicals – ships obviously need oil/petrol to run and many ships also carry oil around as their cargo; this can then be released into the ocean by accidental spills and operational discharges.
  • Release of biocides – antifouling paints (which are used on ship hulls to prevent the build-up of barnacles, algae, sponges, molluscs etc.) generally contain toxic substances; a big concern is tributyltin (TBT) which has been shown to have a damaging effect on the endocrine system – being most problematic in molluscs.
  • Air pollution – the fuel used for ships is basically waste oil, it is very thick and contains a lot of sulfur. Shipping is by far the largest transport polluter of sulfur oxides in world, releasing 20 million tons annually.
  • Waste disposal – garbage and sewage from the ships is often just dumped in the sea; this contributes to the plastic pollution of the oceans as well as eutrophication.
  • Transfer of invasive species – as ships are travelling all over the world they can unintentionally pick up species from one place and carry them to another (generally on their hull or in their ballast water). When new species are introduced to a new environment they can sometimes have a detriment effect and become a pest.
  • Physical damage – from dropping of anchors, dredging, noise and wave disturbance and even the hitting of whales and other marine mammals


The distribution of shipping pollution is due to the shipping routes – more damage is detectable in shipping lanes and ports as more ship congestion is found in these places.

 Map of the worlds shipping lanes showing the traffic density:


Image: Fred Pierce


So what can be done to reduce the pollution caused by shipping?

Because the shipping industry is so huge and so important for the economy it’s not really something that can be stopped, however measures can be taken to make sure that it is more environmentally friendly. However, as members of the general public all we can really do is make more people aware of the damage that is currently being caused and thus help to persuade large organisations to make a change to the legislation.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is basically the rules that all ships on the sea have to apply to:


The International Marine Organisation (IMO) is the organisation responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. You can check out their website for more details on what they do: www.imo.org

Beth x



Gizmag.com, (2016). Big polluters: one massive container ship equals 50 million cars. [online] Available at: http://www.gizmag.com/shipping-pollution/11526/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

MNN – Mother Nature Network, (2016). Eniram outsmarts waves to reduce cargo emissions. [online] Available at: http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/blogs/eniram-outsmarts-waves-to-reduce-cargo-emissions [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Network, M. (2011). 8 Ways in which Cruise Ships Can Cause Marine Pollution. [online] Marine Insight. Available at: http://www.marineinsight.com/environment/8-ways-in-which-cruise-ships-can-cause-marine-pollution/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Omae, I. (2003). Organotin Antifouling Paints and Their Alternatives. ChemInform, 34(14).

OSPAR Commission, (2010). Releases of anti-fouling chemicals. Assessment of the impact of shipping on the marine environement. [online] Available at: http://qsr2010.ospar.org/media/assessments/p00440_supplements/p00440_suppl_5_release_of_anti-fouling_chemicals.pdf [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Wwf.panda.org, (2016). Marine problems: Shipping. [online] Available at: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/problems/shipping/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Yellow fishes:

Have you ever seen a yellow fish painted next to a drain cover? If so it’s likely a part of the yellow fish campaign. The yellow fish campaign is run in Britain, and involves stencilling a yellow fish symbol next to drains to remind people that any waste entering them may go directly to the nearest open water – causing pollution and killing wildlife.

But we don’t put our rubbish down drains, do we? Well, we do. Litter is easily carried in water or by the wind, any dropped litter can so easily end up down a drain, and where it goes from there so unknown to us. It may go to a treatment plant, or into our waters. When in the water we really have no control over what happens next, oil is one of the biggest issues when in drain water, it doesn’t mix with water, and could potentially cause the suffocation of an entire lake. One litre of oil can pollute one million litres of drinking water⁴, a lot right? So remember only water down the drain. Oil can be recycled at local recycling centres, where it’s possibly used to make biofuel.

It’s believed that 10 % of all plastic debris ends up in the oceans¹, we might try to avoid directly placing debris in our water but, there are lots of drains that lead to water. That’s where the yellow fish campaign comes it, it raises awareness of drains which will go straight into the water works untreated. Some places the yellow fish will also tell you where they enter: beach, river, stream, lake, estuary etc. Marine litter is easily carried to the sea by the rivers².

So what kind of litter is found in these drains, in a survey it was found that 32% were tobacco products, 20% were plastic, 16% confectionary products, 16% paper, 9% glass, 4% metal, and 3% unclassified³. But Tobacco products aren’t that bad are they? 4.5 trillion cigarette butts enter the environment every year. Sadly, they will become more toxic as the filter will collect different chemicals found in the water, before some unsuspecting animal or child eats them by mistake.

But the yellow fish campaign is here to change that. It’s raising awareness of what we are doing to our waters, and it’s so simple to get involved!

As the campaign is run completely by volunteers you can do the project whenever you like. All you need to do is stencil a yellow fish next to surface water drains. To do this you do require the permission of the owner of the drain, on public land this will be your local highways department. You could also create leaflets to spread the word to your wider community.

Businesses can get involved too! Why not have your shop or development, more environmentally friendly and educate people too. Improve your environment to improve your profit, sounds good to me for just adding a simple yellow fish.


For more information about how to get involved in England click here.


Lauren x



  1. Thompson RC, Olsen Y, Mitchell RP, Davis A, Rowland SJ, John AW, McGonigle D, Russell AE (2004). Lost at sea: where is all the plastic? Science, 304, 838.
  2. Sadri, SS, & Thompson, RC (2014) On the quantity and composition of floating plastic debris entering and leaving the Tamar Estuary, Southwest England. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 81, 55–60.
  3. KAB, (2009) National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study. Keep America Beautiful, Inc. <www.kab.org/site/DocServer/Final_KAB_Report_9-18-09.pdf> accessed: 20/02/16
  4. Ashworth M, (2012) Yellow fish guidance manual [manual obtained in Exeter branch] 19/02/16

What’s being done on a large scale?

The easiest way to stop plastic waste polluting our oceans is to prevent it ever reaching the water in the first place. As individuals it’s important that we take some personal responsibility, whether that be recycling or picking up litter at your local beach. You can check out some great tips on what you can do here https://sailingtunas.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/reduce-reuse-revive-our-oceans/

However, major producers of plastic packaging still need to do more. Producers need to create packaging that is 100% recyclable and help fund the costs of cleaning up their products that are already in our oceans but also keeping them out of the oceans too!

The other day I stumbled across a website and environmental group called “Natural Resources Defence Council” or NRDC for short. Their mission statement is to “work to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.” They have over 2 million members and are one of the largest environmental groups in the USA. I was pleased to read that they are working closely with several US states and the Obama administration.

The NRDC are currently working on 3 important strategies to help prevent plastic pollution. In the US many states hold plastic producers accountable for recovering and recycling their products, however the NRDC believes building a coalition, consisting of waste management, businesses and environmental groups will help create measures to stop plastic at the very source. By making incentives for plastic producers to use less plastic and more environmentally friendly packaging also ensuring that the recycling actually takes place. Recycling also creates job opportunities, so it’s a win win situation for the community and the environment.

NRDC are collaborating with ocean and waste experts, who are in turn working directly with several major international agencies such as the UN environmental program. They are hoping to create international guidelines for preventing plastic pollution and bringing more international leaders and government organisations together to help tackle ocean pollution together.

Reducing plastic pollution is at the top of the NRDC agenda; they help control the amount of litter in the world oceans by pushing for legal legislation and working closely with other charities. Creating partners with other charities creates a more unified voice for the issues at hand.

The NRDC are one of many organisations looking to put pressure on companies at the international stage. You can read more about the NRDC here and how they are helping to reduce plastic in the ocean and many other environmental challenges they are trying to tackle, here.

Tom 🙂

Feature photo