Fishing for Plastic

Lucy Siegle, Venetia Falconer, Amira Arasteh and Eco-Age joined Aquafil and Healthy Seas on a trip to retrieve more than 4 tonnes of ghost fishing gear off the coast of the Aeolian Islands.

Blue Planet II and Drowning in Plastic have brought global attention to the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans.  Of the total plastic waste in the seas, ghost fishing nets – which have been lost or left in the ocean by fishermen – account for nearly 10%, endangering marine life such as whales, dolphins and turtles.

We joined textile manufacturer Aquafil – which transforms collected oceanic and landfill waste into ECONYL® regenerated nylon – on an epic recovery mission by Healthy Seas initiative, during which volunteer technical divers rescued more than 4 tonnes (4,000 kg) of ghost fishing gear from deep waters off the coast of the Aeolian Islands.

Presenter and podcaster Venetia Falconer took over ECONYL®’s instagram stories during the trip, capturing the moment that the incredible Ghost Fishing divers recovered their largest ever net from the seabed. The retrieval of the net took days of preparational dives to ensure its careful removal after it was lost in a storm 10 years ago. 

According to a report by UNEP and FAO, 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets are left in the seas and oceans each year. In the Tyrrhenian Sea where the dive took place, endangered bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles, sperm whales, and dusky groupers have been found entangled in nets. 

4000kg discarded fishing nets were recovered

But this was more than just a cleanup operation – the recovered fishing nets will be sent to a recycling facility in Slovenia, where they will be given new life.  After being cleaned and combined with other nylon waste materials by Aqualfil, they will be transformed into sustainable textile to be used by fashion houses across the globe.

“The Healthy Seas initiative promotes marine protection and reduces ocean debris, while procuring the materials needed to create ECONYL® regenerated nylon for more responsible textiles for the fashion and carpet industry,” said Giulio Bonazzi, president and CEO of Aquafil. “And yet, this is a scheme that looks beyond ‘cleaning up’ and recycling; it moves towards a closed loop design and a new, more sustainable system.”

Local fisherman joined the mission, organised by Healthy Seas in cooperation with the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund, Blue Marine Foundation and Ghost Fishing Foundation, providing their boat and helping to pull the huge net to the surface. They hoped their involvement would help raise awareness within the fishing community about the problem of ghost nets.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop fishing nets from ending up in these marine ecosystems in the first place,” said  Veronika Mikos, Project Coordinator, Healthy Seas. “By engaging with local coastal communities, and stakeholders within the fishing industry, we hope to prevent marine littering and raise awareness of this global problem. If we do not take urgent action now, we risk losing biodiverse marine environments and the future of our oceans”.