Ghost Fishing Threatens Marine Turtles

Written by on January 15, 2013 in Marine Life, Sea Turtles, Technology
An Indigenous ranger finds a ghostnet with a turtle entangled.

An Indigenous ranger finds a ghostnet with a turtle entangled. Image courtesy of GhostNets Australia.

Australian scientists are working to locate hotspots where lost fishing nets continue to threaten marine life.

Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have partnered with GhostNets Australia and indigenous rangers to find ‘ghostnets‘–lost or discarded fishing gear that continues to fish, even when no one is coming to collect the bounty.

“Our research goes beyond discovering where ghostnet fishing is taking place, to actually estimating its impact on biodiversity, in particular on threatened marine turtles,” explained Dr. Denise Hardesty of CSIRO.

“Using a model of ocean currents and data collected by Indigenous rangers on the number of ghostnets found during beach cleanups, we simulated the likely paths ghostnets take to get to their landing spots on beaches in the Gulf of Carpentaria,” she continued.

According to CSIRO, around 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost or discarded every year, causing problems worldwide. One particular hotspot is in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia where most of the ghostnets originate from fisheries in Asia and Australia.

“We found that entanglement risk for turtles is concentrated in an area along the eastern margin of the Gulf and in a wide section in the southwest extending up the west coast,” Dr. Hardesty said.

Based on the path the ghostnets take, Dr. Hardesty explained that “we can help protect biodiversity in the region by intercepting nets as they enter the Gulf, before they reach the high density turtle areas along south and east coastlines.”

“Our research shows that combining models of marine debris with species occurrence data could identify global hot spots for impact, helping pinpoint where prevention and clean-ups could really make a difference to biodiversity,” she concluded.

Turtle entangled in a ghostnet.

Turtle entangled in a ghostnet. Photo credit: NOAA.

To learn more:

Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia.

Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. Photo credit: brewbooks via photopin cc

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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