Up to 640’000 tons of abandoned ghost nets float in the oceans. According to the latest estimates, such nets account for up to 70% of all plastic in the oceans by weight. In the Mediterranean there are abandoned nets with a total length of over 1’300 kilometers (800 miles). Since 1980 more and more fishing nets have been made of robust plastic that hardly degrades in the sea. They remain intact for up to 600 years and only then slowly decompose into micro plastics, which then cause further damage to the entire ecosystem.
Ghost nets are a major and usually fatal danger for all marine animals. Fish and invertebrates get tangled in the nets and become deadly bait for larger marine animals such as sharks, dolphins, turtles and seals, as these animals also get caught in the meshes of the nets when they eat their prey. Countless whales and sea birds are also killed by these nets and fishing lines.
Seals are naturally curious. A few nudges with the nose are enough and the net has wrapped itself around the seal. The more the animal defends itself, the deeper it gets tangled in the cords. A long agony begins, which the seal cannot win without help.
Sea turtles have roamed the world’s oceans for over 250 million years. Today deadly traps lurk everywhere on their wanderings. If a turtle gets caught in the floating nets, it has just a little chance of survival.
Sharks are always on the lookout for easy prey such as injured or dead fish. Ghost nets offer plenty of them. Sharks burst into the nets at lightning speed to get at the prey. They get caught in the meshes and suffocate in agony because their gills can no longer be flooded with oxygen-rich water.
Small fish like to hide in ghost nets. Seabirds thrust into the nets like torpedoes from the air and their feathers tangling in the mesh like barbs. The animals hardly have a chance to free themselves from the nets.
Not even whales, the largest marine animals, are safe from ghost nets and other fishing gear. Whales have already been spotted pulling heavy fishing gear behind them, which had already cut deep into their bodies.
Ownerless ghost nets are responsible for the senseless death of millions of marine animals every year.