Tag Archives: marine life

Land mines of the sea: Cleaning up lost fishing gear

They are the land mines of the sea, killing long after being forgotten.

Abandoned or lost fishing gear, including traps, crab pots and nets, litter the ocean floor in coastal areas around the world. Many continue to attract, entrap and kill fish and other marine life in what’s called “ghost fishing.”

Groups, governments and companies around the world are engaged in efforts to retrieve and recycle as much of the abandoned gear as they can get their hands on. The goal is to protect the environment, prevent marine life from being killed, remove threats to navigation, and in some cases, generate energy.

Pascal van Erp, a Dutch diver who was horrified by the amount of abandoned fishing equipment he encountered, founded the Ghost Fishing Foundation to tackle the issue.

“The problem with lost gear is enormous,” he said. “It is found in all seas, oceans and inland waters at all depths, along the beach and under the sand. I think the problem never can be resolved completely, but we can keep it from getting worse by showing the problem to the public and the authorities.”

For as long as mankind has been fishing, it has been losing some of that gear, but the problem has become particularly acute in recent decades with rapid advances in technology and the expansion of global fishing fleets.

Industry experts and scientists estimate that commercial fishermen lose about 10 percent of their traps per year to bad weather, currents that drag them to far-flung places or boats that sever tie lines intended to keep them in place.

Recommended solutions include degradable panels on traps that will quickly break down and allow trapped marine life to escape, and fast-degrading screws on whelk pots that serve the same purpose. Numerous international agreements also prohibit the deliberate dumping of fishing equipment at sea.

Some debris is deliberately thrown overboard; in England, small vessels can run up landfill charges of 500 British pounds ($702) per year, giving them an incentive to ditch broken gear.

“Crabs get trapped in the pots and starve to death,” said John Wnek, supervisor of New Jersey’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, whose students are involved in a project to collect abandoned fishing gear from New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay. “They’re still fishing long after they’re not supposed to be. This happens everywhere there’s commercial fishing.”

A 2009 United Nations report estimated there are 640,000 tons of abandoned fishing nets on the ocean floor worldwide. A 2005 survey found fishing boats in Greenland lose an average of 15 nets per day, stretching nearly 2,500 feet.

A 2001 study suggested that ghost fishing kills 4 million to 10 million blue crabs each year in Louisiana alone.

A 2002 study found 260,000 traps being lost each year in the Gulf of Arabia, leading the United Arab Emirates to mandate degradable panels in the traps, a step other jurisdictions have also adopted. The following year, a study in South Korea off the coast of Incheon found 97,000 tons of discarded fishing gear, and about 1,000 tons of lost gear are recovered each year from the Sea of Japan.

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service estimates 12 miles of net are lost each day of the fishing season in the North Pacific, and in Queensland, Australia, about 6,000 crab pots are lost each year.

While the scope of the problem is vast, so is the range of projects to address it. One such effort, called “Fishing For Energy,” has collected over 3 million pounds of discarded fishing gear nationwide. It has already plucked more than 400 crab traps from Barnegat Bay and has its sights on 600 more. It also is active in Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Florida.

Traps that are still usable are returned to local fishermen; unusable ones are either recycled or burned in one of 40 trash-to-energy incinerators run by the energy company Covanta.

The work involves volunteers taking boats onto the bay and using sonar to detect crab pots on the bay’s floor. They mark the spot with buoys and slowly sail over them, trying to snag the debris with a grappling hook dragged from a heavy rope. It is funded in part by a $109,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Cleanups are also underway in other countries. A September effort in Orkney, England, retrieved 60 crab pots and 25 whelk pots, along with rope and netting that a local artist used to create doormats.

 

 

Environmental group sues over cruise ships’ sewage discharges

An environmental group is suing in federal court seeking better regulation of cruise ships and the sewage they dump into the ocean.

Friends of the Earth, represented by Earthjustice, want more effective regulation of the industry, said to dump more than a billion gallons of sewage — much of it poorly treated — into the ocean last year.

The group also is seeking better regulation of the sewage discharged from cargo ships and oil tankers.

Friends of the Earth said in a news release on May 1 that the sewage from the ships pollutes beaches, contaminates coral reefs and destroys marine ecology.

Sewage contamination also puts swimmers at elevated risk of illness and can make seafood caught by coastal fishermen unsafe to eat.

Also, discharges from ships disrupt coastal economies.

In 2012, ship sewage contributed to elevated levels of fecal coliform that led to more than 31,000 days of beach advisories and closings.

“Sewage-contaminated waters not only harm sea life, but also harm people who use these waters,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “These ship sewage discharges contribute to the risk of serious, potentially life-threatening health effects such as gastrointestinal illnesses, hepatitis, ear nose and throat illnesses, vomiting, and respiratory diseases. The EPA reported in 2000 that its ship sewage treatment standards were out of date and needed an update. After 38 years, it is time for EPA to act.”

Sewage discharge close to shore has been banned in the New England area but not in the Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico or the Southeast.

Several years ago, the Friends of the Earth petitioned the EPA and asked that it update its 1976 performance standards and pollution limits for onboard marine sanitation devices — the systems used to treat sewage on ships.

The EPA has not proposed any changes.

A report in 2013 from the group indicated that Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Cunard and Seabourn Cruise Line have installed advanced sewage treatment systems in a majority of their ships, while Carnival, Silversea, Costa and Crystal Cruises received failing grades in the review.

Pollution making oceans hot, sour, breathless

Greenhouse gases are making the world’s oceans hot, sour and breathless, and the way those changes work together is creating a grimmer outlook for global waters, according to a new report from 540 international scientists.

The world’s oceans are getting more acidic at an unprecedented rate, faster than at any time in the past 300 million years, the report said. But it’s how this interacts with other global warming impacts to waters that scientists say is getting them even more worried.

Scientists already had calculated how the oceans had become 26 percent more acidic since the 1880s because of the increased carbon in the water. They also previously had measured how the world’s oceans had warmed because of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas. And they’ve observed that at different depths the oceans were moving less oxygen around because of the increased heat.

But together “they actually amplify each other,” said report co-author Ulf Riebesell, a biochemist at the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Germany. He said scientists are increasingly referring to the ocean’s future prospects as “hot, sour and breathless.”

The 26-page report released by the United Nations and several scientific research organizations brings together the latest ocean science on climate change, stemming from a major conference of ocean scientists last year.

For example off the U.S. Pacific coast, the way the ocean is becoming stratified and less mixed means lower oxygen in the water, and the latest studies show that means “80 percent more acidification than what was originally predicted,” said study co-author Richard Feely of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle.

And computer models predict that the American northwest coast will be hit harder because of the combined change than other places, Feely said.

The theory is that species like squid can only live in waters at certain temperature, acidity and oxygen levels, and the sweet spots where the factors combine are getting harder to find, Feely and Riebesell said.

The world ocean pH already has gone from 8.1 to 8.0 – it’s considered a 26 percent increase in acidity because scientists measure hydrogen ions for this. But computer models predict the world will hit 8.0 in the next 20 years to 30 years and 7.9 in about 50 years, Riebesell said. At those levels shells of some mollusks, like clams and mussels, start corroding, he said.

“This is another loss that we’re facing,” Riebesell said. “It’s going to affect human society.”