Then there are the threats posed by ghost fishing nets, which can entrap marine life. “Different types of items have disproportionate harm to wildlife. Soft plastics are easily ingested or eaten by animals, and those things have a disproportionately negative impact on marine mammals, seabirds and turtles,” Hardesty says.
“But ghost nets or derelict fishing nets are really problematic because they entangle wildlife and they keep fishing indiscriminately. Animals swim into these ghost nets and they get stuck and then they die.” And because the debris is now so closely intertwined with marine life, they are difficult to remove from the gyres.
“Cleaning up plastic waste directly from the NPG is a very difficult task. What’s more cost and time-effective is to reduce or remove waste upstream (ie at the source, on land) well before it is able to reach the ocean and enter the gyres,” Baechler says. This makes the work of Reach Penaflor and his River Warriors, as well as Baechler’s organisation, Ocean Conservancy, even more critical.
Baechler adds: “Although it’s difficult to directly measure how our efforts on land are impacting the amount of plastic in the open ocean and more specifically in the gyres, what we do know is that reducing plastic pollution on coastlines and land ultimately means less pollution reaching our waterways and entering the ocean.”
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