Special Report by Sam Macdonald, President of Deep Trekker

Crab cage being grabbed by the DTG3 and taken to the surface. Photo © Deep Trekker.

Ghost fishing is an issue dear to our hearts at Deep Trekker. As engineers and manufacturers of underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), our innovative technology allows us to tackle underwater issues effectively. 

Ghost fishing refers to abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear including nets, pots and traps. Besides making navigation tricky and smothering habitats, the gear carries on indiscriminately capturing any animal unlucky enough to cross its path. The marine mammals, turtles, fish, rays and crustaceans that are unfortunate enough to get caught often suffer slow, horrible deaths by drowning, suffocation, starvation and exhaustion. Fish that die in ghost fishing gear often attract scavengers who can then get caught in that same net, creating a vicious cycle.

The original idea for this infographic is initiated by Olive Ridley Project.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that each year over 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles get caught in this discarded fishing gear, with an inestimable number of birds and fish captured as well. Also, a variety of marine life can ingest the plastic-based gear, leading to serious health complications. By weight, ghost fishing gear approximately accounts for 46% to 70% of all microplastic marine debris, with about 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear entering the world’s ocean every year. Concerningly research has shown that entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris has affected all sea turtle species, half of marine mammal species, and one fifth of seabird species.

Critically Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) entangled in a ghost net. Andaman Sea, Thailand. Photo by Placebo365 / iStock

We cannot overstate value of technology in the fight against ghost fishing gear. Typically used in a range of industries from maritime shipping to search and recovery to energy production, Deep Trekker underwater drones provide users with a safe and reliable way to perform underwater inspections and maintenance tasks. A more niche use for Deep Trekker units has emerged by using specialized add-ons such as grabber arms and net cutters to rid the ocean of ghost fishing gear. 

Using an ROV allows ghost diving teams to locate ghost fishing gear and retrieve that gear from dangerous locations quickly and cost effectively without putting divers into treacherous conditions. Using the controller from topside operators can search areas for ghost gear using the ROV’s HD camera, LED floodlights, and even sonar. Once located, the ROV can cut nets and pull debris out of the water. ROV’s also allow teams to get eyes underwater before divers enter the ocean to ensure that when divers are retrieving gear, they are doing so under safe conditions. 

Environmentalist scuba divers volunteering on an underwater coral reef pollution clean up. Photo by Placebo365 / iStock

Part of solving ghost fishing is making others aware of the problem. Deep Trekker ROVs allow users to take photos and videos during missions, providing viewers with a firsthand look at the catastrophic impact of ghost fishing gear. Part of the challenge in communicating about ghost fishing gear is that it is tough to visualize. 

One organization working to bring the dangers of ghost fishing gear to light is Ghost Diving Global Mission, the largest international diving organization working to expose the issue by not only removing the fishing gear but visualizing it to the public. Teams of volunteer divers remove the gear while strategic partnerships, inspiring underwater photography and the organization’s engaging social media profiles bring the impact of that gear into the public spotlight. 

In celebration of our ten-year anniversary, we at Deep Trekker donated a DTG3 to Ghost Diving Global Mission not only to aid in the actual removal of fishing gear, but to assist the team in sharing the story of ghost fishing gear. Keep your eyes on Ghost Diving Global Mission as they use technology and robotics to tackle this worldwide issue.

Ghost Diving is a registered charity organization of volunteer technical divers specialized in the removal of lost (ghost) fishing gear and other marine debris since 2009. They are the largest international diving organization working on “ghost fishing” and have carried out diving projects independently or in collaboration with several international environmental and diving organizations including Healthy Seas Foundation, Greenpeace, WWF, Global Ghost Gear Initiative and Global Underwater Explorers. With a well-established track record in a significant number of countries, their aim is to expose the problem of abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) worldwide.