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Ghost net turtle release image 3, credit AFMA.

Ghost Nets Initiative launch

Monday 3 May 2021

The Australian Government has launched the Ghost Nets Initiative by making a $14.8 million investment in projects to directly address the challenge of ghost nets and marine debris littering northern Australian waters and beaches.

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What are ghost nets?

Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (often referred to as ‘ghost gear’ or ‘ghost nets’) is considered one of the most damaging types of plastic pollution to marine life. Once lost, ghost nets continue to drift for periods from days to multiple years, continuing to entangle and kill marine wildlife indiscriminately.

The prevailing currents and conditions in the Arafura and Timor Seas and the Torres Strait mean that marine debris accumulates in the Gulf of Carpentaria, which is recognised as a global marine debris ‘hot spot’. Although this area is remote and sparsely populated, it has one of the highest rates of marine debris accumulation in Australia.

All six marine turtle species found in Australian waters are listed as threatened under Australian environmental legislation and four of the six - the olive ridley, hawksbill, green and flatback turtles - are regularly found entangled in derelict fishing nets.

Retrieval of a ghost net Retrieval of a ghost net. Credit: Australian Fisheries Management Authority

What is happening under the Ghost Nets Initiative?

The Australian Government has committed $14.8 million to address the challenge of ghost nets and plastic litter in the waters and beaches of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The Ghost Nets Initiative will be delivered by Parks Australia over the next three years, in partnership with other government agencies, Indigenous organisations and other key stakeholders to improve the health of our ocean, reduce threats to our marine life and boost Indigenous employment.

Building on past and present efforts by Indigenous communities, environmental groups and private industry, the Ghost Nets Initiative will focus on the following activities:

  • The delivery of new technology to better detect, collect and dispose of ghost nets, which may include mobile recycling plants, satellite tags and tracking databases.
  • Work conducted with Indigenous ranger groups to collect data on the source of ghost nets and coordinate retrievals and marine debris beach clean ups in the Gulf of Carpentaria, one of the nation’s hot spots for ghost nets drifting from foreign waters.
  • New trials to be conducted in collaboration with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and Maritime Border Command (MBC - a multi-agency taskforce, within the Australian Border Force), to attach GPS tracking devices to ghost nets when an initial retrieval is not possible due to unsafe conditions. This will enhance our ability to continually track the nets while they are drifting and arrange for their immediate retrieval by an appropriate vessel.

Current Progress

The Ghost Nets Initiative is in the early design and planning stage. Since the initiative was announced in October 2020, the Australian Government has made progress on several key fronts including:

  • A study into regional-level needs for ghost net retrieval and disposal is underway, including an analysis of the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of available technologies and other solutions. The study is engaging key stakeholders and experts to get a better handle on opportunities for improved tracking, mapping, retrieval and disposal of ghost nets, and analysing the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of available technologies and other solutions;
  • Scientific analysis, conducted by CSIRO, of aerial survey data from the Gulf of Carpentaria, which will highlight current hotspots for ghost nets and trends over time.

Contacts

Ghost Nets Taskforce
Marine and Island Parks Branch
GPO BOX 858 Canberra City ACT 2601
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
Edgar Waite Building 203 Channel Highway
Kingston TAS 7050

Email: GhostNets@environment.gov.au

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