Every year, up to a million tons of fishing nets are lost or dumped at sea. These “ghost nets” continue to kill indiscriminately. Millions of marine animals die in agony each year, while conservationists conduct diving operations to recover the nets.
Nets and parts of nets are lost during storms and accidents, or get stuck on wrecks. However, illegal dumping is also causing the number of ghost nets to increase, with the sea serving as cheap landfill.
Since the 1960s, fishing nets have no longer been made using natural fibers like hemp, sisal or linen, but from synthetic materials. A synthetic net can take 600 years to decompose, and that’s how long it will remain a deadly trap for marine life. Each year, more than 130,000 dolphins, seals, sea lions and whales, as well as millions of fish, birds and turtles, die as a result.
The remains of countless nets also wash up on the beaches of the North and Baltic Seas. The island of Heligoland is home to an important bird sanctuary, the guillemot rock. Over 10,000 pairs of guillemots, kittiwakes and gannets breed there. While the populations have recovered in recent years, more and more breeding birds are building their nests out of the tear-resistant plastic scraps they find on the beach. That can be deadly, especially for their offspring.
Around the world, more and more initiatives are being launched to try to salvage and recycle ghost nets. But recycling is costly and salvage operations are not without danger.
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