Can a Young Inventor Stop the Plague of Ocean “Ghost Net” Deaths?
There are ghosts in the ocean, and they claim millions of lives every year.
We’re talking about the lives of sea creatures like fish, turtles and marine mammals which become entangled in lost, discarded or abandoned fishing gear — especially netting. These nets are called “ghost nets” because they continue “fishing” even though no one will ever come to claim the creatures unfortunate enough to become trapped this way.
One Spanish engineering student has devised a way that could ensure no nets ever cause this problem on a long term basis again. His award-winning solution is marvelously simple in concept.
Alejandro Plasencia has created a biodegradeable net that carries a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. Called the Remora System, the netting is built to break down if left in the water for four years. Watch a video about the Remora System here:
“The ghost net and plastic soup phenomena threaten the way of life for many populations, so it’s a problem we were very interested in tackling,” Plasencia told Dezeen magazine. Plasencia’s netting includes d2w, an additive that causes the strands of the net to degrade safely and in a nontoxic manner.
“We were inspired by symbiotic relationships in nature, like the remora fish that attaches to sharks’ skin and keeps it clean by eating parasites, feces and leftovers,” Plasencia added.
“Abandoned fishing nets are a source of the 100 million tons of waste that float in the sea,” according to Plasencia. “Before decomposing into thousand of plastic bits, these ‘ghost nets’ carry on capturing fish and marine mammals.”
Indeed, lost and abandoned netting can cause serious problems for many years if left in place. Whales, dolphins, sea turtles, rays and many fish become caught with no hope of escape. They eventually starve or become the target for other ocean creatures, who themselves can become entangled.
According to Mission Blue, an international group dedicated to ensuring public awareness of important ocean issues:
Ghost nets are among the greatest killers in our oceans, and not only because of their numbers. Literally hundreds of kilometers of nets get lost every year and due to the nature of the materials used to produce these nets they can and will keep fishing for multiple decades, possibly even for several centuries.
Part of the ghost net problem stems from what it takes to properly dispose of old netting. Some countries charge fees to fishing operations that need to get rid of nets because it’s a lot of plastic that needs to be appropriately dealt with. Those sometimes hefty fees can lead the more unscrupulous fishermen to just abandon their old netting out in the open ocean.
Why must Remora netting last as long as four years? It’s a question of economics for users. Nets have to function as intended and provide a useful life cycle before they must be replaced. Fishermen will want netting that is strong enough to make their investment in this product cost effective.
The point of the Remora System is to help users find and remove their lost netting if possible. If fishermen realize they can’t find their netting, they employ the system’s associated smartphone app. The app tracks the RFID tag, guiding the fishermen to the exact location of the lost net. They can pull it aboard, fix it and deploy it again.
The “backup plan,” if you will, comes into play if the net remains abandoned or lost. When a Remora net sits in the water for a long time, up to four years, it will safely break down. At this point, future threats of entanglement disappear and the netting doesn’t add to the ocean’s exploding “plastic soup” problem.
Even better, fishermen still using regular netting can employ the system’s RFID tags and the app to monitor and find their gear if it goes astray.
“We looking for a very simple, cheap, small unobtrusive piece of technology which could enter the system and make a huge difference,” Plasencia told Dezeen magazine.
The Remora System won the national-level Dyson Award for Spain and was a finalist in the international-level competition in 2014. The annual James Dyson Award recognizes and rewards engineering students’ ground-breaking ideas, with the intent to “ignite young people’s interest in engineering.”
Hats off to the young man who wants to do something truly helpful to fight two battles — the war against plastic refuse in the ocean and the war on ghost net deaths. Alejandro Plasencia recognized a serious problem and came up with a simple but effective solution.
He’s winning awards. With luck, he’ll also win converts that will enable the Remora System and similar inventions to protect the ocean’s ecosystems around the world.
Photo credit (main image): Thinkstock