Protecting Vulnerable Places

Pilot Whales

What is the aim of the Initiative?

World Animal Protection (formerly The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) have launched the Global Ghost Gear Initiative which aims to find a solution to the problem of ghost gear littering our oceans.  The initiative is an alliance of non-governmental organisations (like ORCA), intergovernmental organisations and industry who will share data and resources and learnings from previous case studies in both policy and practice to replicate and expand on.  This combined effort means solutions can be outlined and key problem areas can be tackled.


- Members of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative at the London Conference in September 2015

In 2014 ORCA embarked on an exciting new partnership that aims to create cleaner, safer oceans for all marine wildlife.  You may recall the shocking image of a dead Leatherback Turtle that was entangled in ghost gear from one of our I-Spy trips last year.  This left a lasting impression on the ORCA team so we decided to assist World Animal Protection’s new Sea Change Campaign.

- A dead Leatherback Turtle seen on a September 2013 I-Spy trip (photo courtesy of Colin Kilpatrick)

What is Ghost Gear?

Ghost Gear is abandoned or lost fishing gear such as net, line or rope.  Fishing gear has been found to come from all over the world, and because of the ocean’s currents, it has been found in every ocean and sea, even as far afield as the Antarctic. It can also be found washed up on beaches around the world leading to expensive clean-up efforts.  According to statistics from UN agencies, 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is lost or abandoned every year (Macfadyen et al. 2009) causing injury and death to many species of marine wildlife including our whales and dolphins. 

 - net found on beach (photo courtesy of World Animal Protection)

- Netting found on a beach in Spain (photo courtesy of Alarcon Family)


 - A Cetacean with hook and line attached (photo courtesy of HWDT)

- A young female seal caught in rope (photo courstesy of L.Morgan RSPB)

What is the impact of ghost gear?

We have all seen images of the devastating consequences this has on marine animals.  When an animal becomes entangled in fishing net or rope, it can trap them, wound them or restrict their movement leading to injury or even death through infection, drowning or starvation.  Those who aren’t killed are often left badly scarred and have even lost limbs as fishing line has become so tightly wrapped around them.  In fact, according to current scientific evidence at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales are being killed by ghost gear every year

How is ORCA helping?

In order to help World Animal Protection quantify the effect and impact of this problem in UK waters, we enlisted the help of our Wildlife Officers, who began recording and photographing ghost fishing gear in the North East Atlantic as they sailed between Portsmouth and Santander/Bilbao, Spain.  This information is then passed on to World Animal Protection so they can analyse the abundance, causes, impacts and trends.  The maps shown below for July and August are a shocking example of the amount of debris throughout the route

Our aim to further our support of this campaign is to start collecting ghost gear data on our ferry survey routes in 2015.  Don’t forget, you can train to become a marine mammal surveyor for ORCA and help us provide a cleaner safer sea for all marine wildlife!

How can you help?

- Read more about World Animal Protection
- Join the Sea Change: Tackling Global Ghost Gear Campaign
- Volunteer as a surveyor and help record the ghost gear sightings
- Email us any photos you have of washed up ghost gear
- Donate to ORCA today to help us continue our work monitoring our oceans