Bali. Dakar. Vanuatu. Panama City.
Four places that, at first glance, seem unconnected: they have different languages, currencies and cultures. Panama City, Panama, and Dakar, Senegal, are bustling metropolises while Bali, Indonesia, and Vanuatu are picturesque islands. However, there’s one thing that brings them all together: our ocean, and the ghost gear threat that it faces.
Over the past year, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) has hosted a series of regional workshops in conjunction with the UN Fisheries and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in each of these locations to help educate local fishers and regional stakeholders on the best practices to manage fishing gear and prevent abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, also known as ghost gear. Conservative estimates suggest 640,000 to 800,000 tons of fishing gear is lost annually worldwide, which could account for as much as 70% of all macroplastics by weight in our ocean. Ocean Conservancy research shows that it is also the most harmful form of marine debris, as aquatic life of all shapes and sizes can easily become entangled in lost gear. And because it is so often made of plastic, it can persist in the environment for centuries or more.
The GGGI brings together more than 100 different NGOs, corporations, governments and other groups to develop solutions to the ghost gear problem, focusing on three main measures: preventing gear from being lost, mitigating the impact of what is already in the water, and removing ghost gear when possible. The four workshops primarily focused on building capacity and raising awareness of how to prevent ghost gear through the use of the Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear and the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear (VGMFG). The workshops also helped identify baseline information on the main causes of gear loss in each region; the prominent types of fishing gear that get lost there; and ghost gear hotspot areas to help formulate effective, locally relevant mitigation strategies.
Last month, the GGGI held the fourth and final workshop of the year in Panama City. Over the course of three days, more than 70 participants from across 30 Latin American and Caribbean nations gathered to discuss the challenges they were facing on the ground, share practices and policies in place, and work together to develop a solid set of recommendations for tackling ghost gear in the region. In the GGGI spirit of cross-sectoral collaboration, representatives from organizations like the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science provided eye-opening examples of the ghost gear problem in their communities and project work underway in the region. The event culminated in a lively debate, out of which came recommendations on how to best prevent ghost gear in the area, as well as the actions the GGGI and others can take to help advance the cause.
While this was the largest of the regional workshops the previous three worked in a similar way, with recommendations for prevention developed for the West African region at the Dakar workshop, the South East and East Asian region at the Bali workshop, and the South Pacific region at the Vanuatu workshop.
As requested by countries at the 33rd UN FAO Committee of Fisheries Meeting (COFI) in July 2018, all these recommendations will form the basis of FAO’s global ghost gear strategy and umbrella program that will be implemented starting January 2020 together with the GGGI. The GGGI is excited to provide support for this work and will continue to work closely with FAO as they implement the program.
However, there was one big element that set the week in Panama City apart from the rest of the workshops: alongside the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP) and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), GGGI co-hosted a training on how to remove gear from the water, and put those new skills to the test with an actual in-water removal of ghost gear.
The training began in the classroom with participants learning how to decide whether or not gear should be removed, how to put together a dive plan using a decision tree framework and hearing from experts at Project Aware, Conservación ConCiencia and more. The next day, participants were ready to get their feet wet. Early Friday morning, they made their way to Taboga Island off the coast of Panama City where two ghost gear sites had been identified. As the divers got to work underwater, the rest of the team prepared to gather data using GGGI’s Ghost Gear Reporter App on the size, weight and type of gear recovered.
After about forty-five minutes, the divers surfaced with ghost gear in tow. At the first site, two large clusters of net were retrieved, and the second site yielded even more. The gear was almost nest-like, with several different nets and ropes entangled together. Looking closely, you could see a whole world of ocean life that had made their home among the ghost gear: tiny shrimp, crabs and sea stars all emerged out of the nets and were thrown back into the water.
Ghost gear is a wide-reaching, complex issue: from Panama City to Dakar, it affects everyone. While the best way to tackle ghost gear at scale is by preventing it in the first place, removing it from marine environments is also a critical tool. The GGGI is proud to have helped put these workshops together and we look forward to working alongside FAO to continue this effort.
Learn more about the Global Ghost Gear Initiative here.
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