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Underwater explorers, photographers and cinematographers encounter ghost gear and other ocean plastic pollution, but solutions are at hand. (photo: (Credit: National Geographic/Mark Sharman for Disney+).

Green Economy

Ocean Plastic Pollution Or Not, The Show Must Go On

Underwater explorers encounter ghost gear and other ocean plastic pollution, but solutions are coming.

The award winning cinematographer Bertie Gregory is out with another edition of his Epic Adventures series on Disney+, unspooling this Thursday, September 8. Since part of the new series takes place in the ocean, now would be a good time to catch up on ocean plastic pollution.

An Interview With Bertie Gregory

CleanTechnica had a chance to ask Mr. Gregory about his encounters with plastic pollution in an exchange of emails last month. We also covered his experiences with new cinematic technology and clean tech, too. Here is our interview in full:

CleanTechnica: You’ve made the adjustment to drone technology, which requires careful planning. Are there other new technologies you’ve tried — or plan to try — and how have they worked out?

Gregory: Aside from their ability to give you a new angle, drones are incredible because (if flown responsibly) they allow you to track alongside the wildlife. This really helps us immerse the viewer in the environment and get in the mind of our animal subjects.

The drone flies a relatively small camera with a short zoom lens. To stabilise a larger zoom camera we used a military grade gyrostabilised camera system called a Shotover M1. This half a million-dollar system stabilises a 50-1500mm lens which we mounted to vehicles to track alongside lions and boats to track alongside whales and dolphins. Even in big waves and over bumpy ground, the system smooths out wobble so our shots are rock solid when the camera is moving at speed.

CleanTechnica: Have you and your team experimented with renewable energy on your expeditions? Why or why not?

Gregory: For our Antarctic whale mission, we used an ice strengthened sailboat to cross the infamous stretch of water between South America and Antarctica known as the Drake Passage. When the wind wasn’t in a favourable direction, we were reliant on the boat’s engine but venturing out on deck in the waves to crank on the sails was definitely an experience.

As a film crew we rely heavily on battery technology to power our camera, drones and lights. I’d love to be able to charge a lot of the equipment using portable solar (especially in the hotter locations!) but the tech isn’t quite there yet. I hope this will change soon.

CleanTechnica: Have you encountered plastic pollution in your ocean voyages? If so, how has that impacted your photography?

Gregory: Sadly we’ve encountered plastic a lot even in the wildest places like 300 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica or on the Antarctic Peninsula. While we’ve seen all kinds of trash, the most common form is discarded fishing gear.

Ocean Plastic Pollution & Fishing Gear

Discarded fishing gear — aka ghost fishing gear — does account for a large share of ocean plastic pollution. On a global basis, WWF estimates that about 12 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Fishing gear accounts for about 500,000 to 1 million tons annually.

As Mr. Gregory suggests, ghost gear can concentrate in certain areas even though it only accounts for about 10% of the total. For example, WWF estimates that the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about 46% ghost gear, including nets, lines, and ropes among other items.

Ghost gear also accounts for outsized impacts on marine life compared to other forms of plastic pollution.

Lethal ghost gear hotspots are on the radar of the Ocean Conservancy. “In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary alone, an area smaller than the state of Connecticut, scientists suspect there are over a million abandoned lobster and crab pots with 85,000 of them estimated to be actively ghost fishing,” they point out.

Ocean Conservancy also suggests a financial element that could both motivate and force the global fishing industry into a more sustainable model.

“Globally, an estimated 90% of species caught in lost gear are commercially valuable, and some fish stocks experience up to a 30% decline due to ghost gear actively ghost fishing,” they note. “This has staggering implications for food security, fisheries sustainability and ultimately, the bottom line of the fishing industry.”

Ghost Gear Attack Ramps Up

For a relatively new effort, GGGI is catching on fast. That’s probably thanks to the initiative’s ability to measure and demonstrate the economic impact of ghost gear on the fishing industries of various nations.

“The GGGI is working with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s (APEC) Ocean and Fisheries Working Group (OFWG) to develop ghost gear prevention strategies in APEC economies. Originally proposed by the United States, and sponsored by the United States, Malaysia and Thailand, this project marks a major victory in collaboration across international forums on the ghost gear issue,” the organization said in a blog post last year.

APEC includes 21 economies ringing the Pacific Ocean, which together account for almost 42% of the Earth’s habitable area, and 38% of its human population, along with eight out of the 10 biggest fishing economies in the world.

The learning curve could be a sharp one, based on the economic success of past endeavors.

In 2016, for example, researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science analyzed a program for removing derelict crab pots from the Chesapeake Bay. “The economic benefits of the program far outweighed the program’s total cost,” the Ocean Conservancy noted, citing a “boost of 21 million USD in harvest value over a six-year period.”

“Generally speaking, addressing ghost gear improves fishery sustainability and creates a win-win for fishers and fish,” they added.

The Ocean Plastic Pollution Solution

In addition to removing old ghost gear, GGGI members are tackling ocean plastic pollution through prevention. One angle is a voluntary fishing gear marking and tracking program, which should help recover gear lost through accident in addition to creating new opportunities to nab bad actors.

Alternative fishing gear, improved reporting on fishery activities, and eco-label certification are also part of the prevention mix described by GGGI in a recent report.

“Collective and collaborative action to solve this global problem has grown exponentially in recent years and is a good indicator that this is a problem we can solve,” they conclude.

Ocean Plastic Pollution: Recycling & Upcycling

As for the other 90% of ocean plastic pollution, that’s going to take more time to resolve, especially when it takes the form of seagoing microparticles, some of which come from ordinary daily activities such as driving your car and doing your laundry.

Nevertheless, GGGI is making a good case for hitching the sustainability star to other plastic-using industries as well as the fishing industry. Public awareness about ocean plastic is growing, and that is motivating manufacturers to burnish their green cred by incorporating recycled and upcycled ocean plastic in their product lines (looking at you, Ford). That should help ramp up ghost gear recovery programs and other ocean plastic removal initiatives.

The bottom line angle could also help accelerate investor interest in R&D leading to biodegradable bio-plastic substitutes, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Bertie Gregory filming underwater in Costa Rica (National Geographic/Mark Sharman for Disney+).

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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