Marine debris also known as marine litter is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment.
80 percent of ocean plastics come from land based sources, that piece of trash you threw on the ground blows in the wind and makes it way into a stream. There's also new evidence that suggests plastics and other debris are being disposed of at sea by ocean going vessels both intentionally and unintentionally. Once in the ocean it could take hundreds of years for that trash to biodegrade, but does it really go away? most plastic debris break down into micro plastics which are mistaken as a food source by small aquatic organisms. These micro plastics make their way up the food chain and onto your dinner plate!
Marine debris can be particularly dangerous and often lethal to wildlife. Each year, more than 100,000 marine mammals die when they ingest debris or become entangled in debris dumped into the ocean. Seals are especially prone to become entangled because they are by nature curious and will investigate unusual items in their environment. As many as 2 million seabirds also die every year due to debris ingestion and entanglement. Fishing line, fishing nets, strapping bands, and six-pack rings can hamper the mobility of aquatic animals. Once entangled, animals have trouble eating, breathing, finding food, escaping predators, or swimming, all of which can have fatal results. Entanglement can also cause wounds that can become infected. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), marine debris threatens over 265 different species of marine and coastal wild-life through entanglement, smothering, and interference with digestive systems.
Ghost gear is abandoned, Lost, and discarded fishing gear, it’s the most harmful form of marine debris, pound for pound. Purposely designed to capture and entangle marine life. 5-30% of harvestable fish stocks are killed each year by ghost gear. As well as other forms of marine life such as whales, seals, turtles and coral.
Generally made of strong materials mainly plastics, they can last in a marine environment for 100s of years. When lost they can continue to catch marine life for the duration of their life cycles. Some gear types are more harmful than others however, they all have an impact on a marine environment when lost. Intentional discard of fishing debris is relatively rare, in Atlantic Canada the main cause of lost gear is due to weather conditions. Recent studies have suggested that between 46% -70% of all macro plastics floating in the oceans when measured by weight is fishing related. These studies only refer to floating debris and lost gear tends to be a subsurface problem collecting on the ocean floor.
Canada has joined the fight against ghost gear signing onto the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. Fishers in Canada are now reporting their losses and retrievals as a condition of their licensing to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and will continue to do so moving forward.
You can learn more about the Global Ghost Gear Initiative at https://www.ghostgear.org/