Gannets (northern gannet Morus bassanus) on the “Lummenfelsen” on Heligoland. The birds use plastic waste and parts of fishery nets (Dolly ropes) to build their nests on the rock. The ropes can lead to death by strangulation.

Cape Town, South Africa November 6, 2019 –  An estimated 640,000 metric tons of abandoned or lost fishing equipment, or ‘ghost gear,’ enters the ocean every year, equivalent in weight to more than 50 thousand double-decker buses. In total, the equipment makes up around 10 percent of the plastic waste in our oceans, entangling and killing marine life, warns a new Greenpeace Germany report, Ghost gear: the abandoned fishing nets haunting our oceans.

The report comes as the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, is surveying Mount Vema,  a biodiverse seamount in the Atlantic, over 600 miles off the coast of South Africa, where the remains of the once active fishing industry can still be found.

Speaking from the expedition at Mount Vema, Thilo Maack, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, said: “Long after its initial use, this fishing gear goes on killing and maiming marine life, and polluting remote ecosystems like the Mount Vema seamount. We have seen an amazing underwater world full of life and colors here. It’s utterly grim to see the legacy of destructive fishing in such a remote location like this.

Wave surge constantly sweaping through beds of seaweed where a Tristan Rock Lobster (Jasus tristani) clings to an underwater peak of Vema, circled by shoals of Yellowtail Amberjacks.

“Even the Tristan Lobster, an iconic species of Mount Vema that was fished to the brink of extinction twice, is now showing signs of population recovery thanks to a ban on bottom fishing being implemented here. This shows how oceans have an amazing ability to regenerate. But to properly recover and thrive into the future, Mount Vema and its unique ecosystem need to be completely off-limits to harmful human activities. The current protections for ecosystems in international waters are clearly not enough.”

The “Ghost Gear” report shows that 6 percent of all nets used, 9 percent of all traps, and 29 percent of all longlines (fishing lines that are several miles long) remain as pollution at sea. Not only does old fishing waste go on killing marine life, it also seriously damages underwater habitats. Seamounts are particularly affected because they are often heavily fished due to the range of wildlife living around them.

“The impact of abandoned or lost fishing gear has increased dramatically as the industry has switched from natural fibers, ceramic pots and wood buoys to plastic,” said John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA. “Together, plastic fishing gear and single use plastic packaging make up the bulk of debris in our oceans.”

Greenpeace is calling for stronger action against deadly ghost gear to be implemented, including agreement of a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the United Nations that could protect at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030, by making it off-limits to harmful human activities, including industrial fishing.