I have briefly mentioned ghost nets in my first blog post under Le Petit Bleu section, where I described some of the main problems that the Baltic Sea is facing. The issue is so serious however, that I decided to investigate it further bringing you some more details on the dangers to marine environment and biodiversity that ghost nets carry.
Ghost nets are essentially fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned or purposefully tossed away after they are no longer good to use. Since they are usually coated with plastic for enhanced durability, they are not degradable and therefore, become a part of plastic pollution problem worldwide. It is estimated that, in the Polish zone of the Baltic Sea only, we can find up to 800 tonnes of ghost nets, drifting in the open sea with the current or sitting on its bed. In both cases they pose a great, yet relatively unknown, threat to the marine habitat entangling numerous marine species including those endangered. The fishing nets from the Indian Ocean for example, often trap Olive Ridley sea turtles which, even if discovered, are in such a bad condition that they do not survive the rescue process. Entangled animals become an easy target for predators but also die out of dehydration and starvation.
Entrapped animals have also a negative impact on the local fisheries and consequently on the economy. Not only are fish lost to the ecosystem but they are also lost to the fishermen and to the market. Swedish scientists have proved that lost fishing nets continue to serve their original purpose from 20% of its initial catchability in the first 6 months after the net is lost, to 6% in the next two years (WWF). It is worth mentioning here, that the fishing nets covering the shipwrecks are catching fish all the time, posing an extra threat to the shipwreck tourists. Attracted by an outstanding number of sunken vessels sitting on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, divers might get tangled themselves since the ghost nets covering the shipwrecks are hardly visible.
Fortunately, both marine and ocean protection organizations as well as individual projects have taken efforts not only to research the above problem but also to become its solution. Below are the two examples that I came across while doing my research that really amazed me. First, taking place in Poland and supported by World Wide Fund (WWF), is actually the biggest initiative of this kind to be held globally. It involves fishermen from the whole Pomeranian region (North of Poland), scouring through the Baltic waters in search of lost fishing gear. Along with the ghost nets, the fishermen catch a great number of scrap metal and other junk attached to the fishing nets such as telecommunication cables which are a common find during the search. Please watch the below video documenting this amazing expedition!
On the other side of the world, The Olive Ridley Project aims to clean oceans from the lost fishnets, rescue injured turtles and educate the world about the danger of ghost nets and its direct impact on the marine life. It was founded in 2013 to analyze and document the effects of the lost fish nets after a large number of olive ridley turtles were found entangled in them in the Maldives. Up till now they removed 1,300+ ghost nets and other fishing gear fragments from the Indian Ocean. While doing so they found and reported 601 entangled turtles. 48 has been treated in the rescue center and 22 released (Olive Ridley Project), with the rest presumably dead or beyond rescue. I strongly support their mission and encourage you to watch the video below!
To summarize this blog post, I wanted to say that I am very proud of my own country not only because they launched the first ghost net search of this kind globally but mostly because they set an example of how one good cause can bring people across all industries, from different backgrounds to do something amazing TOGETHER. Uniting to save lives, protect the environment and literally, change the world around us for better might be the most rewarding thing the humanity is capable of doing. We have all the power to protect our planet and create the new reality. Let's use it wisely.
I have really got interested in microplastic when I attended the Zero Waste Fairs in my hometown. Before that yes, I was aware of its existence, but I never gave too much of a thought regarding its origin or, perhaps more importantly, its consequences on the water habitat. And do not let the name mislead you...microplastic might be tinny tiny plastic particles that are less than 5mm but its presence has huge impact on the aquatic ecosystem.
Before we discuss the threats to the environment posed by the microplastic, let's first define what exactly microplastic is and what its pathways to the marine environment are. The term microplastic includes all plastics smaller than 5 mm. These may be of primary origin, in the form of industrial elements such as scrubbing microbeads or synthetic fibres washed out from clothing during laundering. The study conducted by Julien Boucher and Damien Friot, that quantified microplastic leakage, showed that primary microplastic can in fact be the major source of plastic pollution in the ocean. Secondary microplastics originate from the fragmentation of larger plastic items into smaller plastic elements once exposed to marine environment. Secondary microplastics are also a result of poor waste management such as discarded plastic bags or lost fishnets. The vast majority (98%) of microplastic, however, is lost in land based activities such as laundering or... driving! When you drive, your tyres push down on the road (so as road pushes up on the car -> kinetic frictional force) with great force that causes abrasion. This in turn leads to loosing of the plastic elements.
So how does microplastic enter the water? The main pathways are through road runoff (66%), wastewater treatment systems (25%) and wind transfer (7%) (IUCN Study). Once in the water microplastic particles can either float or sink. It depends on their density and total weight. Polypropylene, for example, is lighter than the seawater and will widely disperse across its surface. Acrylic, on the other hand, is denser than seawater and will eventually accumulate on the ocean floor, from there entering the food chains. Because of the fact that the release of microplastic is not very obvious, the consequences of a persistent ignorance are much more dangerous. Plastic waste encountered in the form of large, visible pieces is easier not only to spot and tackle, but also bring society's attention to the global problem of water pollution thanks to the powerful visuals such as photos and videos. The negative impact of microplastic has been long neglected but may also have far reaching consequences.
Let's begin with a simple: IT DOES NOT BELONG THERE. As microplastic enters the food chain, its existence threatens the ecosystem. Studies have shown that microplastics in the marine environment have an impact on organisms of all trophic levels— worms, fishes, sea turtles, birds, and mammals (Wright et al. 2013; Lusher 2015). What is interesting is that many organisms not only confuse microplastics with food but also selectively feed on them in place of food (Moore 2008). Since plastic cannot be digested but takes a large part of stomach volume, the feeling experienced can be confused with that of satiation. It may stop the organisms from searching for food and consequently decrease the growth and reproductive rates. What is more, if a plastic particle blocks the gastrointestinal tract it may lead to an immediate death. The consequences for humans stem not only from the fact that consuming the fish, we also consume the plastic it can carry. More dangerous is the ability of plastic to attract highly toxic substances from the environment which can bind to the particles and THEN get consumed.
The invention of plastic changed our lives forever. Above all it simply offers hassle-free solutions (plastic food storage), increases our comfort (transport) and satisfies more superficial needs (use of plastic in clothing and microplastic beads in cosmetics). However, our lives made easier come at a great cost. It affects our planet in so many negative ways, yet we are still resistant of letting it go. Of losing the comfort. In that sense going out of your comfort zone has a whole different meaning. By taking smart, conscious decisions, we not only respect Mother Earth but OURSELVES. It is a high time to realize it affects the whole planet which, in fact, we are only a part of. It accomodates much larger group of living organisms and animals for which it is also a HOME. Home upon which we all depend. We talk about sustainable development a lot but we tend to forget that it is actually our planet that sustains our lives. The best we can do it to take a good care of it.
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I was born and currently live in Gdynia - one of the cities in nine littoral states and home to around 90 million people living in the catchment area of the Baltic Sea. People are generally more concerned about the oceans, horrified by the pictures of floating plastic islands or the amount of trash gathering at the coastlines. The Baltic Sea pollution, however, poses a threat on its own, though not easily seen on the surface but rather hidden in its depths. This lack of visual evidence makes it harder for the people to take a problem seriously and understand the many reasons of the poor state of the Baltic Sea marine environment. Some of the main ones include:
Geographical location. The Baltic Sea is surrounded by land. There is only one narrow entrance located between Sweden and Denmark that connects it to the North Sea. This means that water in the Baltic Sea can be exchanged only every 25-30 years which has an adverse effect on its ability to 'clean' itself from the accumulated pollutants.
Shallowness. The Baltic Sea with its average depth of 55 meters is relatively shallow compared to the Mediterranean Sea’s average depth of 1500 meters. This makes it more vulnerable to the external load of pollutants and nutrients runoff compared to other, deeper areas. Shallow and icy waters also increase the chances for major shipping incidents resulting in the outflow of large volumes of oil into the sea.
Human activity. High population density, industrial waste and agriculture production result in large inputs of nutrients much of which is lost to water (nitrates and phosphates) and air (ammonia and nitrogen oxides). Due to a slow water exchange these nutrients accumulate as the sea bottom and contribute to the accelerated process of eutrophication (see definition to the right).
Oil shipments. The marine traffic on the Baltic Sea has increased with the development of Russia's policy to export oil and gas directly from its land and not through the pipelines of transit countries. The risk of accidents resulting in oil spills, however, is very high due to the low temperature of the Baltic Sea for the substantial part of the year and the ice sheets floating on its surface.
Together with unsustainable fishing practices (overfishing; illegal fishing) , marine litter and poor wastewater management (ex. waste water from passenger ships), the above factors make Baltic Sea one of the most threatened marine areas in the world.
Undoubtedly, a strong leadership and genuine commitment from the joint countries is of vital importance in saving this marine ecosystem. However, the future of the Baltic Sea lies not only in the hand of politicians. We have a lot to say too.
You may think 'I would like to help but hey, I cannot change the geographical characteristics of the sea, influence the governments to decrease marine traffic or stop the oil spills from happening'. And you are right. Directly you cannot. But thinking outside the box, connecting causes to the effects and abstract ideas to tangible actions open the door for a whole new way of thinking. And so using detergents without phosphates (one of the two main pollutants in the Baltic Sea), taking your disposable cutlery, plates and barbecue with you after leaving the beach, buying local and seasonal fruits and vegetables (decrease the demand for food transportation) and eating fish that is sustainable fished (not endangered species and not from illegal/untrusted resources) can all improve the state of the Baltic Sea.
In the summer season in my city, people across the country come to enjoy the weather on one of the many beaches spreading along the northern border of Poland. Warned about highly-toxic blue-green algae present in the water they either come into the water despite the warnings or are angry that someone spoils the summer fun. Whatever the case, it both shows the ignorance some still carry in their hearts. Not only with regard to ther health and safety but also the environment. The occurrence of blue-green algae is a direct consequence of the eutrophication and of a changing marine ecosystem. When we start to look at things through the prism of our daily encounters, we reach the true meaning and depth of an issue. And tough sometimes we might not be an ease with that, we need to confront and be ready for the truth that ultimately can save our future.
Put your waste where it belongs
Shocking 48% of total marine litter comes from private households.
33% from tourism activities.
Not flushing your personal care items down the household drains and picking up your litter when you leave the beach...
It only takes this much!
A phenomenon that occurs when an excessive amount of nutrients is added to the marine ecosystem by human activity, resulting in marine life devastation and altering the ecosystem (algae blooms and oxygen depletion).
The Baltic Sea hides thousands of tonnes of Nazi chemical agents and weapons which corrode and their harmful contents are slowly leaking into the sea.
A whole website dedicated to the problem of ghost fishing. You can also email them if you want to get involved!