50% of the ocean plastic comes from discarded fishing nets

Ghost nets are haunting our oceans.

Ghost nets are commercial fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned or discarded by fishermen at sea. These nets are often invisible in the dim light and sit on the ocean floor, entangled in rocks. The awareness of plastic in our oceans is prevalent at the moment with beach clean ups, social media campaigns and BBC documentaries encouraging us to reduce our consumer need for plastic bottles, food containers and straws. Ghost nets are not often part of this conservation, but perhaps they need to be. Ocean Cleanup estimate that ghost nets account for 50% of the plastic in our oceans, entangled wildlife and lurking menacingly on our ocean floors.

The STEM team are working hard to raise awareness of the dangers of fishing nets in the oceans. They are collecting discarded nets, liaising with local fisherman and beach clean ups and researching alternatives to traditional nets to explore the possibility of biodegradable netting.

To give you some context, there are 18 students in total working on the  projects. The students are aged 12 to 14 years of age and are sub-divided into small groups, each responsible for moving the project from the problem stage to solutions. We launched the projects in September 2018 after a STEM day themed on environmentalism. What emerged from that day was a commitment to raise awareness and to find solutions, whilst having fun in the process.

Science – Modern nets are made from artificial polyamides like nylon and polyethylene which when exposed to sodium in our oceans can take over 200 years to biodegrade. When the fibres that bind the nets together do begin to decay they split into micro-fibres and micro-plastics which are consumed by fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Once consumed, the plastics sit in the stomachs of marine animals tricking them into thinking they are full. This causes many species to perish from starvation, depleting fish stocks and ravaging our marine ecosystems.

Engineering – A promising new study published in the journal Animal Conservation offers an alternative biodegradable net, blending 82% polybutylene succinate (PBS) and 18% polybutylene adipate-co-terephthalate (PBAT). These fibres biodegrade completely after 24 months in seawater and don’t create the same mono filament micro plastics. During lab testing, the biodegradable nets had a lower breaking strain and performed inferiority when compared to traditional nets. More research needs to be conducted and new alternatives tested.

Art and Technology – The STEM team have been salvaging ghost nets from the jurassic coast and upcycling them into new products. To date, they have made bracelets, hammocks, door mats, flower pots and wall displays. Check out their work here:

In the design stage, the team wanted to explore the reality of working with nylon. This proved to be a huge challenge. Unpicking fishing nets is a tough job! The tough durable and non-pliable nature of nets makes it a tough fabric to bend, weave and create with. We are grateful to Lynn from @the_upcycle_movement for her support and advice about how to work with the nets.

At the end of this month, we collected crates of fishing nets donated by Lush Cosmetics, these nets were used as part of their ocean floor display at the Lush Summit in 2018. The team plans to re-purpose these nets into new products to fund the next stage of their project.

Fishing nets donated by Lush Cosmetics to be made into new products

Keep up to date with our fishing net project via our social media platforms or subscribe to our blog. For more information check out this video created by Circular Ocean EU

In pursuit of innovative and sustainable solutions for marine plastic waste, the Circular Ocean project seeks to inspire enterprises and entrepreneurs to realise the hidden opportunities of discarded fishing nets and ropes
Bureo skateboards take sustainability to the next level and salvage ghost nets off the coast of Chile and turn them into skateboards, very cool!