Aussie initiative uses recycled tech to clean up ghost nets

By Ashmeeta Subra  June 20th, 2024

An Australian marine environment organisation is repurposing high-tech GPS to track and recover ghost nets, one of the most impactful yet unseen forms of ocean plastic pollution.

Australia’s breathtaking coastlines face a growing threat from marine debris and pollution. From plastic bottles to abandoned fishing gear, the shores bear witness to the extent of human impact on our oceans, harming wildlife that ingest marine debris.   

During routine beach clean-ups along Cape York’s coast, near Australia’s northeastern tip, Tangaroa Blue volunteers found peculiar tire-shaped capsules that turned out to be GPS-enabled buoys used by commercial fishers to track their nets and lines.  

Brett Tait, Tangaroa Blue’s circular economy developer, noted that the trackers are “such a high-tech piece of equipment,” and for them to go to landfill “seemed like such a waste.” He had the idea to not just recycle but reuse the buoys to tackle the growing issue of ghost nets in the ocean.   

Ghost nets are abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) that pose a significant environmental challenge globally. Drifting with the currents and tides, these nets act as indiscriminate fishermen, endangering threatened marine wildlife worldwide. They cause substantial environmental harm – introducing marine pests, synthetic materials, and safety hazards that affect shipping and navigation routes. 

Since the launch of their initiative in December 2022, Tangaroa Blue has successfully retrieved three ghost nets, including a three-tonne behemoth tangled in the Gulf of Carpentaria for over a year. To date, crews from approximately 100 commercial fishing vessels, representing 22 international companies, have joined Tangaroa Blue’s initiative.  

In 2013, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) marine scientist, Denise Hardesty, identified a specific area in the Gulf of Carpentaria where ghost nets tend to gather. Her findings suggest that focusing Tangaroa Blue's efforts in this area could intercept nets before they harm the marine wildlife living in the gulf's shallow waters. 

While ghost nets from commercial fishing operations are the most significant issue here, fishing equipment left at the beach or shore can also end up in the ocean and impact marine life through ingestion, entanglement and exposure to harmful materials. It’s important to dispose of trash, pack up equipment and belongings to avoid contributing to marine debris and to preserve our oceans.  

Article image is for illustration purposes only and does not reflect actual equipment.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

Ashmeeta Subra

With background in international relations and marketing communications, Ashmeeta is excited to use her skills to encourage positive environmental actions through Planet Ark. She believes that by taking small actions, we can help make a big difference and be good stewards of our planet. Outside of work, she loves spending time in nature and enjoying downtime at the beach.

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