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A Voice for our Ocean

Ocean Conservancy Photo Contest Underscores Threat of Ghost Gear to Our Ocean

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Washington, DC  – Ocean Conservancy announced the winners of its 2019 photo contest on Monday; and while the majority of submissions showcased the beauty and wonder of the ocean, they also revealed an ever present threat to marine life: lost and abandoned fishing gear (also known as “ghost gear”).

“When most people think of the effects of ocean plastic, they think of seagulls trapped in six pack rings, or turtles with straws in their nostrils,” said Nicholas Mallos, senior director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program.  “Single-use plastic items are serious threats to marine life; but these photos show what the science tells us: ghost gear is the deadliest form of marine debris because it is specifically designed to entangle marine life.”

The majority of fishing gear is made of plastic and other synthetic materials. Once it is lost- due to extreme weather or other circumstances- it lingers in the environment and continues to indiscriminately capture fish and other marine wildlife for centuries to come. While scientists estimate that approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean from land every year, the amount of fishing gear remains largely unknown. Best estimates state that upwards of 800,000 tons of ghost gear is lost annually; however, emerging science suggests these inputs may be much higher. This year’s photo contest submissions highlight this threat: ocean animals from around the world, including a parrot fish, a spider crab and a seal, were all photographed entangled in lost fishing nets.

Earlier this year, Ocean Conservancy assumed leadership of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), a consortium dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear on a global scale. The GGGI has close to 100 member organizations representing the fisheries sector, industry, retail corporations, academia, nonprofits and inter-governmental organizations.

“We cannot address the ocean plastic crisis without addressing the threat of ghost gear,” said Ingrid Giskes, Director of the GGGI at Ocean Conservancy. “Ghost gear jeopardizes people’s livelihoods, threatens food security and harms precious marine life. Photos like these – while heartbreaking – are critical to informing the public of the impact of ghost gear.”

Notable Human Impact submissions can be found here.

Photo contest winners can be found here.


About Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is working with you to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit, or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

About Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® Program

Ocean Conservancy has led the fight for a clean, trash-free ocean since 1986, when the organization launched its first annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) on a beach in Texas. Since then, the ICC has expanded to over 150 countries and has mobilized millions of volunteers to remove more than 300 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the globe, all the while logging each item and building the world’s largest database on marine debris.

Recognizing that cleanups alone will not solve the growing ocean plastic crisis, Ocean Conservancy has leveraged that data and invested in additional science to better understand the sources of ocean plastic. In 2012, Ocean Conservancy launched the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, uniting conservationists, scientists and members of the private sector to work together for pragmatic, impactful solutions to the problem, such as the launch of Circulate Capital and Urban Ocean. In 2019, Ocean Conservancy assumed leadership of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative to reduce the amount of lost and abandoned fishing gear entering the ocean and engage fishers on best practices. Learn more at

About the Global Ghost Gear Initiative

Launched in September 2015 and founded on the best available science and technology, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is the first global collective impact alliance dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear at a global scale. The GGGI’s strength lies in the diversity of its participants, including fishing industry, private sector, academia, governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. Every participant has a critical role to play to mitigate the effects of ghost gear locally, regionally and globally. Learn more at

Media Contact

Madeline Black




Trash Free Seas

We’re working on innovative solutions to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in our ocean, threatening ocean wildlife through ingestion and entanglement.

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Our ocean faces many threats like the onslaught of ocean trash, overfishing and ocean acidification. With the help of donors like you, Ocean Conservancy is developing innovative solutions to save our ocean.

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