Ghosts of the sea—lost nets that kill marine life

A by-product of fishing industry– lost or abandon nets also referred to as ghost nets are as deadly as their name implies.

Drifting with highs and lows of the ocean currents, they often become tangled together with ropes, buoys and other debris to form what are known as ghost net conglomerates and they swallow or ensnare everything that comes on its way including marine turtles, dugongs, dolphins and whales.

Amongst marine life, the most affected species is Olive Ridley turtle. They are ocean-dwelling, meaning they spend a considerable amount of time in open water, swimming in search of food, foraging in different habitats, looking for bottom-living organisms such as crabs and lobsters.

During our recent coral reef surveys in the islands, we encountered what appeared to be a discarded net floating in the water. Our first reaction was to go closer to examine the net, and when we saw the flippers of a turtle we jumped into the water to check out if the turtle was alive. The turtle was indeed alive, but struggling for life, as it was surrounded by a net and dead snapper. Schools of juvenile Golden Trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus), Scissortail Sergeant (Abudefduf sexfasciatus), Fusiliers (Caesio varilineata) and Rudderfish (Kyphosus sp.) were swimming nearby.

We cut the derelict net off from the turtle and brought the turtle on board to check for injuries. Once out of the water, it was passive but harshly gulping in air. We checked out signs of external injuries and quickly released the turtle back into the water.

The following pictures show a ghost net, turtle, dead snapper tangled into a mass that could have been wandering in the ocean for months. The detailed report can be found here.


Entangeled juvenile olive ridley turtle_Andaman Islands_Vardhan Patankar
Entangled juvenile olive ridley inside the ghost net
Inside the ghost net_Olive Rodley_Picture Vardhan Patankar
Ghost net conglomerates
On the way to Joy of freedom
Joy of freedom
Enbound happiness of swimming into the ocean
The happiness of swimming into the ocean

Non-profitable charity Olive Ridley Project actively fights ghost gear in the Indian Ocean; their efforts rely heavily on volunteers and every single person who collects discarded netting, removes a ghost net or disentangles an animal is helping their cause. In addition, olive ridley turtle project relies on marine biologists, fishermen sea wanderers to collect data on ghost nets and sea turtle entanglements.

As per their website, they have recovered 600 net conglomerates since 2014 and rescued 80 sea turtles! While you are on a dive trip or travelling between the islands, and if you spot a ghost net, please report it or, if safe to do so, remove it – you will contribute to efforts of olive ridley project and save the life of a magnificent ocean dwelling turtle.

A detailed article was first published in  Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter, 1 (26), 5-7. 



Published by Vardhan Patankar