June 8 is World Oceans Day. It's a day dedicated to highlighting the importance of this vital ecosystem that covers seventy-one percent of the Earth and is home to iconic marine animals. But there is a danger that lurks beneath.
Research shows us that every year, some 640,000 tons of fishing gear, known as "ghost fishing gear," are lost or discarded in our oceans. It travels long distances from its point of origin and accumulates in hotspots around the world. This tangled web of nets, traps, lines, hooks and packing bands injures and kills an estimated 136,000 seals, whales, porpoises and sea lions annually and poses a threat to local economies, the environment, tourism, human health and the conservation of marine animal species.
It is a massive problem beneath the ocean's surface that needs a solution. So where can we start?
As part of World Animal Protection's Sea Change campaign, I recently joined our partner, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, for a Gear Grab expedition off the coast of Portland, Maine. Ghost fishing is a major concern for marine animals on the Northeast coast of the US. It is estimated that half (48 to 65 percent) of Gulf of Maine humpback whales have been entangled at least once in their lifetime. More than 70 percent of north Atlantic right whales, a critically endangered species, have been entangled in ghost fishing gear. Up to 300,000 "ghost" lobster pots can be lost to the seas each year in the coastal waters of Maine alone, often due to bad weather or gear conflict.