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This One Pollutant of the Ocean is Deadlier Than All the Others Combined

It's not plastic straw.
IMAGE provided by World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines
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In recent years, people have been refusing single-use plastics at restaurants and groceries because we’ve been told these end up in the ocean and kill marine animals. What they didn’t tell us is that these plastics make up a fraction of the pollutants that are responsible for maiming thousands of marine animals each year. 

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The single most devastating pollutant in the ocean is actually fishnets

In the commercial fishing industry, it is common practice for large commercial boats to cut off their fishing nets when these are entangled in coral. But instead of hauling it back onto the ships, they just leave them out in the ocean. 

Commercial fishing nets are considered disposable by large fishing companies, but since they are made of nylon, they do not decompose. They entangle thousands of marine animals each month, including whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles, and seals, which suffocate when they are caught in the nets. 

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According to World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF), abandoned fishing gear is the deadliest form of plastic debris for marine life and has already driven the vaquita porpoise and other marine mammals to the brink of extinction. Only 10 vaquita purposes remain today.

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Despite the significant damage caused by abandoned nets, very little attention is being paid to it by governments and the fishing industry.

In the latest report by WWF, it detailed how much damage such abandoned fishing gear cause in the sea:

  • At least 10 percent of marine litter is estimated to be made up of fishing waste, which means that between 500,000 and one million tons of fishing gear are entering the ocean every year
  • The number of species affected by either entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris has doubled since 1997, from 267 to 557 species. Sixty-six percent of marine mammals, 50 percent of seabirds, and all seven species of marine turtles.
  • Each year, 5.7 percent of all fishing nets, 8.6 percent of traps and pots, and 29 percent of all fishing lines used globally are lost around the world.
  • In the upper Gulf of California, Mexico, illegal and abandoned gillnets have driven the vaquita porpoise to the brink of extinction–only around 10 individuals remain.
  • Ghost gear damages valuable marine habitats, damaging coral, harming the habitats of sessile animals, damaging vegetation, causing sediment build-up, and impeding access to key ecosystems.
  • Ghost gear has negative economic impacts, posing dangers to livelihoods and navigation by boat.

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Members of the public are invited to join almost two million others in signing the petition calling governments to take urgent action at panda.org/plastics. They can also support the campaign by uploading a photo or video of a sea species to social media with a big hashtag (#) over it and tagging #StopGhostGear.

 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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