How to Deal With the Actual Source of Ocean Debris (Which Is Not a Straw)

Can we stop being angry with plastic straws for a minute? Some people say that plastic straws are stupid and useless, while others emphasize that I am disabled and need to drink them . What if the fate of the ocean doesn’t depend on plastic straws at all? Because one of the largest sources of plastic waste in the ocean is fishing waste.

Straws make up a tiny fraction of ocean debris. If we’re serious about mining plastic from the ocean, why not focus on the things that are more contributing to the problem? (Oh yeah, because then we’ll have to convince corporations and governments, not pretend it’s all about our individual choices.)

The famous “garbage patch” in the Pacific Ocean is 46 percent of fishing gear , such as discarded nets. Sometimes fishing gear gets lost and sometimes it’s just thrown into the ocean. What are you doing with an old giant fishing net that’s out of fashion for a long time? In many places, it is easiest to simply throw it away . This mechanism can entangle animals and turn into microplastics , tiny debris that now mix with plankton across the ocean.

So there is an ongoing effort to provide the fishing industry with a place to properly dispose of the nets, be they the ones they remove or the “ghost gear” they pull out of the sea. Fishing for Energy is one of the programs in the USA with receiving stations in 48 ports. Metal parts are recycled and plastic is burned to generate energy . The Global Ghost Gear Initiative is joining forces around the world, including tagging networks so everyone knows who owns an abandoned or lost network. Meanwhile, a project in the Philippines is buying old nets (giving fishermen a financial incentive to drag them to a return station) and turning them into carpets. And in the US we do have NOAA Marine Debris dedicated to researching and trying to reduce the amount of debris in the ocean. Here’s their page on how you can help : For individuals, it’s mostly about cleaning the beach, not throwing shit into the water.

But what can we do to prevent debris from entering commercial fishing? There aren’t many organized campaigns for citizens to tackle fisheries waste yet, but you can find out if your local government or the companies that fish the fish you eat are supporting the litter management initiatives mentioned above. Bloomberg’s Adam Minter suggests some pressure should be put on companies to make a promise that their fish will be fished with responsible fishing gear. Seafood Watch considers “ghost fishing” of lost and abandoned nets as part of its sustainable fishing criteria, so you can make a (small) impact by choosing seafood that has received a green or yellow rating.

If you live close to the coast and can’t wait to get more done, mark Saturday, September 15, 2018 on your calendar. This is the date of the International Coastal Cleanup and there is a possibility that there is a cleanup near you.

The rest of the time, you can do the cleaning yourself and use the Clean Swell app to register the trash found. The app has a grid of buttons for various common types of shoreline litter. You go – either by boat or dive – and touch every find. (Raise up, please.) Fishing gear is one option, along with cigarette butts, toys, and more. The data is returned to the Ocean Conservancy, and they use it to find patterns in what types of garbage people find and where to focus their cleanup and prevention efforts.

Update July 21, 2018: We’ve added Seafood Watch information.


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