Forty tons of fishing nets retrieved from Pacific Ocean

SAN FRANCISCO (LOG News Service)—In a mission to clean up trash floating in the ocean, environmentalists pulled 40 tons of abandoned fishing nets in June from an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Mariners on a 140-foot cargo sailboat outfitted with a crane sailed from Hawaii to the heart of the Pacific Ocean, where they retrieved the haul of mostly plastic fishing nets as part of an effort to rid the waters of the nets that entangle whales, turtles and fish and damage coral reefs.

The volunteers with the California-based nonprofit Ocean Voyages Institute fished out the derelict nets from a marine gyre location where ocean currents converge between Hawai’i and California during their 25-day expedition, the group’s founder, Mary Crowley, announced on June 28.

The group is among a handful of nonprofits working to collect plastic trash from the open ocean, an endeavor that can be dangerous, time consuming and expensive.

The cargo ship returned June 18 to Honolulu, where 2 tons of plastic trash were separated from the haul of fishing nets and donated to local artists to transform it into art work to educate people about ocean plastic pollution. The rest of the refuse was turned over to a zero emissions energy plant that will incinerate it and turn it into energy, she said.

A year before they went to pick up the nets, the Sausalito-based group gave sailors going from California to Hawaii buoyant GPS trackers the size of bowling balls to attach to the nets they encountered during their voyage so they could be tracked.

The group then sailed to collect the nets entangled with plastic chairs, bottles and other trash in an effort that cost $300,000. The group plans to deploy dozens more GPS trackers and next year embark on a three-month trash collection expedition, Crowley said.

It is estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 metric tons of fishing gear is abandoned or lost during storms each year in the oceans, said Nick Mallos, Director of the Trash Free Seas Program at Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

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