A nonprofit conservation group that works to help remove trash and plastic debris from the world’s oceans along with volunteers from Maine’s coastal communities recently recovered nearly 5,000 pounds of what is known as “ghost gear” from the Gulf of Maine.
Any fishing equipment, such as ropes, lobster traps, buoys, nets and other staples of Maine’s fisheries can turn into ghost gear after being abandoned, lost or discarded at sea. This marine debris can pose significant risks to sea life, and contributes to the buildup of microplastics in the environment, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There is evidence to suggest that ghost gear also contributes to the buildup of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” in the environment.
The group of local volunteers in collaboration with Ocean Conservancy and the Rozalia Project were able to collect a total of 4,723 pounds of discarded gear and other marine debris from remote islands in the Gulf of Maine during an expedition at the end of June.
The volunteers recovered 4,220 pounds of lobster traps, 530 pounds of rope, 52 pounds of dock foam, 35 pounds of buoys, 31 pounds of bleach bottles, 14 pounds of oil bottles, 11 pounds of plastic drink bottles and another 10 pounds of various debris.
“To be successful in this work, you have to connect with the community, and we did just that,” said Ashley Sullivan, the executive director of the Rozalia Project. “Through the support of landowners, Maine Island Trails Association, the Corea lobster co-op, Waste Haulers, Recyclers, fisherman and residents of Corea, we were all able to come together for healthy oceans.”
A typical Maine lobsterman expects to lose about 10 percent of their traps every year. With more than 4,000 licensed lobstermen fishing upward of 800 traps apiece, that adds up fast. Some estimate there are as many as 30,000 traps lost every year in local waters. In 2021, nonprofit group OceansWide recovered more than 1,000 traps from Boothbay Harbor, with constant efforts to recover more.
The cleanup effort was made possible through funding from the NOAA. The gear that is recovered is recorded as part of the Ocean Conservancy’s Global Ghost Gear Initiative, which collects data on ghost gear recovered from waters across the globe.