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UNLESS…Earth Friendly Friday: Plastic trash in our oceans – marine ropes and fish nets

This blog post is in support of a new weekly WordPress event inspired by prophetic words written in 1971 by Dr. Seuss in his book – The Lorax

” UNLESS . . . someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.”  

The first week’s theme is Plastic – and I’m re-framing marine trash information posted on Native Leaf’s blog for this blogging event.


plastic rope debris photo by Kip Evans

Marine trash is something most of us do not think about.

That is probably the first problem, because unless the marine trash washes ashore — like in the photo above from Kip Evans during beach trash clean up in Alaska, USA — we cannot see the problem.

natural fiber rooeUntil synthetic ropes were invented, ropes and netting used in the marine industry were made from natural materials like hemp and abaca (a plant closely related to bananas, musa textilis — also called “Manila Hemp”). 

Ropes were also made from plant fibers  like jute, sisal, cotton and flax.

The invention of nylon from petroleum-based chemicals in the 1930’s began what would be the rapid decline of natural rope use.

Although nylon was invented as a synthetic fabric replacement for silk (and for use as women’s stockings), nylon fit the needs of the military during World War II.  The first rope made with synthetic or man-made fibers was made from nylon.

If lost at sea or dumped overboard, marine ropes and netting made from natural materials biodegrades, while petroleum-based ropes do not.

You may have heard about “ghost nets” or have seen the photos of wildlife entangled in plastic marine debris…like the sea turtle below (photo source, US NOAA).

From the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website on ghost nets:

… the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is getting worse due to the increased scale of global fishing operations and the introduction of highly durable fishing gear made of long-lasting synthetic materials.

nylon fishing net attached to small plastic floats by Peter Church

The report estimates that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear in the oceans makes up around 10 percent (640 000 tonnes) of all marine litter.

Merchant shipping is the primary source on the open sea, land-based sources are the predominate cause of marine debris in coastal areas.

Most fishing gear is not deliberately discarded but is lost in storms or strong currents or results from “gear conflicts,” for example, fishing with nets in areas where bottom-traps that can entangle them are already deployed.(Photos below from UN FAO)


There are solutions to this problem, and marine industry trash can be controlled!  But it will take work and commitment from the marine / fishing industry and governments.

Again, from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website:

  • Financial incentives.  Economic incentives could encourage fishers to report lost gear or bring to port old and damaged gear, as well as any ghost nets they might recover accidentally while fishing.
  • Marking gear. Not all trash gear is deliberately dumped, so marking should not be used to “identify offenders” but rather better understand the reasons for gear loss and identify appropriate, fishery-specific preventative measures.
  • New technologies.  New technologies offer new possibilities for reducing the probability of ghost fishing. Sea-bed imaging can be used to avoid undersea snags and obstacles. Fishing equipment can be expensive, and many fishers often go to great lengths to retrieve lost gear. Technology that makes doing so easier can help. Using GPS, vessels can mark locations where gear has been lost, facilitating retrieval, and transponders can be fitted to gear in order to do the same. Similarly, improvements in weather monitoring technology can be used to help skippers avoid deploying nets when very bad weather is imminent.
  • Just as new synthetic and other materials used in fishing gears have contributed to the ADLFG problem, they can also help solve it. Work is underway to speed up the commercial adoption of durable gear components that incorporate bio-degradable elements. For example, in some countries fish traps and pots are constructed with a biodegradable “escape hatch” that disintegrates when left under water too long, rendering the trap harmless. As this would not necessarily reduce the levels of debris, a reporting and retrieval system should also be adopted.
  • Improving collection, disposal and recycling schemes.  It is necessary to facilitate proper disposal of all old, damaged and retrieved fishing gears, according to the report. Most ports do not have facilities on site that allow for this. Putting disposal bins on docks and providing boats with oversized, high-strength disposal bags for old fishing gear or parts thereof can help remedy this.
  • Better reporting of lost gear.  A key recommendation of the report is that vessels should be required to log gear losses as a matter of course. However a “no-blame” approach should be followed with respect to liability for losses, their impacts, and any recovery efforts, it says. The goal should be to improve awareness of potential hazards and increase the opportunity for gear recovery.

Great recommendations for the problem, and will work if the marine industry and nations work together to carry out these programs!

In the meantime, when deciding what type of rope to use…please consider alternatives.

I understand that for many modern rope use, safety (e.g., life safety codes, load capacity, breaking strengths required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA) and cost factors are first considerations for the type of rope to use.

But if a biodegradable material can fit the needs of the job, why not use biodegradable, natural ropes instead of synthetics?

To participate in this timely WordPress challenge topic and to see other submissions for the theme click here (

Thank you to for creating a place to share ideas about “resources and actions…for nature’s sake”.

Marine Debris Time Line

Marine debris Biodegradation data from the Hawaii-based C-More (Center for Microbial Oceanography Research and Education) website



  1. Pingback by UNLESS… Earth-friendly Friday: Plastic | Just Another Nature Enthusiast — February 11, 2015 @ 1:36 am

    […] Native Leaf: Plastic trash in our oceans – marine ropes and fish nets […]

  2. Comment by Jane — February 11, 2015 @ 1:49 am

    This is an important post that describes a serious problem associated with the use of plastic in the modern world. Yes, one that was not as problematical when natural fibers were used in the fishing industry. The hope that new technologies are working to find ways to solve the devastations of “forever” products is, indeed, encouraging.
    Along the Oregon Coast, there are marine debris and fishing-rope/nets collection stations in some of the harbors. Seems like a very doable way to help build awareness… every baby-step will help.

    Thank you for including these thoughts in this week’s Earth-Friendly Friday challenge.


  3. Comment by Market Admin — February 11, 2015 @ 10:51 am

    Thank you for the comment, Jane.

    It is good to hear about the marine debris “collection station” at some of your harbor areas there in Oregon.

    It is a positive step towards keeping this type of trash out of our oceans, and it seems EVERY harbor should have a place to discard and recycle marine industry debris.

  4. Comment by Jane — February 13, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

    This post was a great segue into this week’s UNLESS… Earth-friendly challenge: Plastic Waste. Especially with a lot of media coverage on Feb. 12,13 focused on new study released about increasing volume of plastic waste entering the oceans.

    Did you have a crystal ball?!


  5. Comment by Market Admin — February 18, 2015 @ 4:57 pm

    Your crystal ball comment is funny, Jane.

    As a fellow nature enthusiast, it is so sad to hear about all the new studies — especially that things are getting worse for the ocean trash situation.

    But, I am still hopeful that we WILL turn this problem around — human beings often make a change, or some new technology comes along that creates a solution for disastrous conditions that we create.

    My hope is that it is not too late, and by communicating these problems though our blogs, we can make that small difference that can make a big difference later on :).

  6. Pingback by From hunting whales to celebrating whales in Monterey Bay | Lola Jane's World — February 19, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

    […] and address a wide range of non-whaling threats to cetaceans including entanglement, ship strike, marine debris, climate change and other environmental […]

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