Scroll Top

The Dangers of Ghost Nets

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been abandoned by fishermen or lost in the ocean, and they’re a big, yet relatively unknown, problem for marine life.

Abandoned by fishermen or lost in the ocean, ghost nets pose a big, yet relatively unknown, problem for marine life. The Olive Ridley Project was founded to research the effects of ghost nets after large numbers of olive ridley turtles were found entangled in them in the Maldives.

The Olive Ridley Project

Divers rarely see olive ridleys in the Maldives, but from 2011 to 2013, marine biologists, divemasters and boat captains recorded 50 of the turtles entangled in fishing nets in Maldivian waters. They discovered each entanglement by chance, suggesting that these 50 turtles reflect only a small portion of the actual number of ghost-net entrapments of olive ridleys in this region. Sadly, many more will have slipped by unnoticed.

Since the Olive Ridley Project’s inception in July 2013, 53 more olive ridleys have been found. Entangled in these nets for extended periods, the turtles’ condition quickly deteriorates. Some of the common injuries are dehydration, amputations and deep lacerations. Opportunistic predatation also increases when the turtles are entangled, which creates further trauma for the animals. Once found, the turtles are often in such bad shape that they do not survive the process of being freed. Dedicated teams in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India are working towards rehabilitating injured turtles. Unfortunately, however, the problem of ghost nets continues.

What the Olive Ridley Project does

At the time of writing, the Olive Ridley Project has removed 154 nets from the Indian Ocean, collected from India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. They have documented and analyzed these samples as well. The Olive Ridley Project collects net data from across the Indian Ocean and adds it to their database. They hope eventually to identify what types of fisheries significantly contribute to ghost-net numbers. They are also in the process of analyzing current models to identify potential origins and final destinations of ghost nets.

The Project also actively works with artisanal fisheries to understand the problems fishermen face. They also work toward effective alternatives that communities could adopt to improve their catch rates, reduce bycatch and prevent fishing nets from ending up in the ocean. Prevention is one of the best forms of protection, and working with local communities can be quite effective.

You can help

Awareness is key. Sharing what you know on social media is a great way to raise the profile of this problem. The Olive Ridley Project also sponsors symposiums and workshops to spread their message, and welcomes anybody with an interest. Scientific data can also help understand the true threat of ghost nets in the Indian Ocean. With insufficient current data, the project has created a database to collect information on any ghost net found either on a beach or at sea.

The data recorded involves basic parameters such as webbing size, twine dimensions, twist direction, material and knot construction. Their website and Facebook group pages offer a detailed explanation of their data collection methods. They are happy to include information from anyone who spots ghost nets while walking beaches or diving in the Indian Ocean. Email the project at [email protected] if you would like to get involved or have any further questions.