Many people visualize marine litter as unsightly plastic debris in the form of bottles, caps, plastic bags and other waste drifting in huge gyres in the oceans.
Just as dangerous and far less visible is what’s known as "ghost gear:" discarded, lost or abandoned nets that form floating death traps, says the Environmental Justice Foundation. The foundation runs the Net Free Seas project and is funded by the Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund.
The problem is a global one and the damage that ghost nets inflict every year is vast, as these nets continue to catch and kill marine wildlife, said EJF’s executive director Steve Trent.
EJF is now launching efforts in Thailand, where, with the funding from the Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund it will employ a project coordinator who will engage with communities, discussing with them the dangers of ghost nets, and how they would like the scheme to work in their area.
The coordinator will also provide training for the fishers on how to avoid losing nets themselves. The initial funding will allow the project to run for the first year, and the team is hoping to get ten communities on board.
The work, which commences on Aug. 1, builds on a successful pilot project in Thailand in which three fishing villages were able to collect over a metric ton of nets in the course of a year. The nets collected within the scope of the project are cleaned using salt water, compressed into blocks, and transported to the partner recycling factory. Here, they are made into pellets and sold to end-user companies which make them into useful products.
Two such companies have already signed up: Qualy is a Thai design brand with a focus on community and environment; and Starboard, a water sports company. They will contribute fishing nets they find through their Plastic Offset Program — a project that regularly cleans up beaches in Thailand.
The money from the nets will either be paid into a fund for the village, to be used towards projects such as communal facilities or conservation projects designed to help communities adapt to climate change or given to individuals as they present the nets for recycling. Each community will choose the model they would like to follow.
The project will be implemented with the support of the Thai Department of Fisheries, which has already been invaluable in the pilot work, facilitating collaboration with the three participating communities.
Once the project is successfully running in Thailand, EJF hopes to expand it to other countries, and in particular, West Africa, where marine plastics pollution is rife.