Like so many others, I get reflective this time of year. Long after the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day, I find myself thinking back on the highs and lows of the past twelve months, and all of the things that I hope to achieve in the future.
2019 was an eventful year for the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI.) In the spirit of reflection and resolutions, here are eight things that I’m proud of the GGGI for achieving in 2019, and three things that we’re looking forward to accomplishing in 2020.
1. We found a permanent home with Ocean Conservancy.
It’s been a full year since Ocean Conservancy became the new host organization of the GGGI, and the transition could not have gone more smoothly. The GGGI is in great company alongside other collaborative initiatives under Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program, including the International Coastal Cleanup and the Trash Free Seas Alliance®.
2. We launched new initiatives in memory of our colleague Joanna Toole.
Joanna Toole, one of the co-founders of the GGGI, was tragically killed in the March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash. Joanna was a tireless advocate for the ocean and the creatures that depend on it, and we’ve sought to carry on her legacy. In October, Ocean Conservancy alongside OceanCare, the Center for Coastal Studies and the Joanna Toole Foundation launched the Joanna Toole Internship to support young women in ocean conservation. Additionally, alongside World Animal Protection and the Joanna Toole Foundation, we have launched the Joanna Toole Annual Ghost Gear Solutions Award, which will fund projects dedicated to tackling ghost gear.
3. More than a dozen new member organizations joined the GGGI.
Last year, the GGGI grew significantly, with organizations across many different sectors joining. Major corporations, including SeaBos, which represent 10 of the top seafood companies in the world, Red Lobster, Food Co-op UK, DSM and Darden Restaurants joined the GGGI and are looking to incorporate the Best Practice Framework (BPF) across their relevant corporate policies and supply chains. Five new NGOs joined, including Cape Breton Environmental Association, Blue Marine Foundation, Ocean Care, Blue Cycle and the Manta Caribbean Project, furthering our capacity to directly implement solutions on the ground around the world. Finally, the Government of Norway became the fifteenth national government to sign on to the GGGI.
4. We held a series of regional workshops in collaboration with UN FAO.
Alongside UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the GGGI hosted workshops on the BPF and FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear in Vanuatu, Indonesia, Senegal and Panama. It was invigorating to work with regional stakeholders and fishers to develop prevention strategies for ghost gear in their communities. In total, over 200 participants from 101 countries participated in these workshops, and we’re excited to build on this foundational work in 2020 with more local action planning and training opportunities.
5. We helped implement solutions on the ground.
In 2019, we were excited to help implement solution projects in Jamaica, Indonesia and Myanmar. In Myanmar, we initiated a ghost gear removal pilot effort, which was the first of its kind in the country. The project, funded by the National Geographic Society and World Animal Protection, focuses specifically on the Myeik Archipelago, one of the most remote and undisturbed island groups in the world. In Indonesia, we continued our work on the marking of fishing gear together with the Indonesian Government.
6. We facilitated gear removal across the world.
The GGGI helped remove abandoned fishing gear in Panama City, Vanuatu and the Gulf of Maine. Notably, the removal in Maine yielded our biggest find in a single retrieval effort ever: a gear ball weighing over 20,000 pounds (or nearly ten metric tons!) was collected and brought back to shore to be recycled.
7. We attended and spoke at a wide variety of high-profile conferences and forums.
The GGGI team had the opportunity to speak at conferences around the world and bring further attention to the ghost gear problem. From the APEC Oceans and Fisheries Working Group Meeting in Chile to the ASEAN Regional Forum and US State Department workshop in Vietnam, we were excited to help shape high-level regional policies and share our knowledge of the effects of ghost gear on the ocean and those who depend on it. We spoke at numerous seafood shows and events alongside GGGI corporate partners, including the North Atlantic Seafood Forum, Seafood Expo North America, and SeaWeb Seafood Summit. We also attended other global policy fora, including the Our Ocean 2019 Conference in Oslo, Norway and the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, where we had the chance to connect with key figures in the battle against ocean plastic and for sustainable fisheries.
8. We watched awareness of ghost gear grow through global mainstream media coverage.
As the issue of ocean plastic more broadly garnered attention, 2019 saw an influx of public interest in the issue of ghost gear. The GGGI was featured in Forbes, while gear removals in Maine and Panama were covered by the Associated Press and France 24, respectively.
Despite the ups and downs of last year, I find myself optimistic about what 2020 holds for the GGGI. As a sneak preview, here are three of the things that I’m most excited about.
- We are planning updates to the data portal which will provide stakeholders with access to even more resources from our GGGI member organizations.
- We will participate in various policy fora, including the UN Ocean Conference, the Hallifax Gear Innovation Summit (Halifax, Canada), the International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic (Reykjavik, Iceland), the International Conference on the African Marine Waste Network (Port Elizabeth, South Africa), and the UN FAO Committee of Fisheries (COFI) meeting where we will continue to advocate for policies that confront the ghost gear issue
- We will launch a best practice framework that deals specifically with the issue of aquaculture derived ghost gear.
I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together in 2020 through this change-making initiative. Watch this space for updates throughout the year!