Ghost Gear investigations… Week one…

And we’re off! At the end of week 1, we’re taking a look back at the first developments from our research project titled ‘Investigating how Ghost Gear and Marine Plastics can become Precious Plastics’.

(If you don’t know what we’re talking about, take a look at our last post!)

So what have we been up to?

The week began with some desk based research to find out a little more about Ghost Gear around the ports of Shoreham and Newhaven; both included within – and at the borders of our research area. As it turns out, there isn’t a great deal to be found. (Information that is… we are sure there is plenty of Ghost Gear!) Both port authorities provide a reasonable amount of information on environmental policies through their webpages, however very little of this links directly to our research area. So I guess we can call this our first major finding – the port authorities of Newhaven and Shoreham have very little publicly available information relating to Ghost Gear! However, this isn’t a major problem for us as we have already began discussions with Fisheries Consultant and industry expert, Harry Owen. Harry is going to be contributing to the work of the project at various stages; but first he is helping to connect us to members of the local port authorities as well as local fisherman who will be able to provide us with the information we require.

We haven’t been sat at our desks all week either! On Tuesday we planned out our observational research. This meant evaluating each section of the Greater Brighton coastline to select areas to investigate and plot any washed up Ghost Gear. The map below shows the different areas for investigation.

At each location, we continue to record information including the types of gear, quantities and contamination levels. Wherever possible, we will also be removing the Ghost Gear so that we can take samples for testing.

These observations are now well underway! On Wednesday, we headed down to a very windy Newhaven beach to conduct the first on-site part of our research stage. This is one of the less commercial stretches of coastline in the Greater Brighton area – and the effects are obvious. Not only was there huge quantities of Ghost Gear, but the amount of plastic washed up on the beach was shocking. Just goes to show that just because you may see less of it on commercial, more populated beaches (because they are regularly cleaned), marine plastic is there… and it’s a serious issue.

We were able to remove a huge amount of gear from the beach; enough to fill a (now slightly smelly) hatchback…

This was repeated on Friday, when we travelled to sector 6 on our map – Rottingdean. With a combination of beach type, from rock groyne bounded pebbles to rockpools, we were particularly interested to see where the ghost gear collected. We had not gone far when we discovered an incredible amount of Ghost Gear wrapped around, under and within the huge rock groynes.

There was too much to leave, so – after braving the inner parts of the groyne (caution – do not try this at home!) we were able to cut free and haul up massive chunks of gear. We will be back to Rottingdean next week to carry on our survey on the rockpool stretches.

WEEK ONE summary:

  • publically available data on ghost gear from Shoreham and Newhaven ports is sparse.
  • ghost gear quantity is higher on less populated beaches.
  • ghost gear variety in the area ranges from nylon nets, to a variety of rope types and rope nets.
  • sometimes there are large accumulations of gear that is hard to retrieve easily, or safely.

BIG NEWS! Claire Potter Design to lead a new Innovate UK co-funded project in marine litter…

We have big and exciting news! Starting today, Claire Potter Design will be leading a £34,000 research project concerning marine litter in the greater Brighton area. The project aims to create local value from marine plastic waste and ghost gear; fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned or otherwise discarded.

The project, titled ‘Investigating how Ghost Gear and Marine Plastics can become Precious Plastics’, is being co-funded by Innovate UK; the UK’s innovation agency, and will be supported by a number of parties including fisheries consultant Harry Owen, and Professor Martin Charter, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Design at the University for the Creative Arts. Progressing in 3 stages, the studio will begin by collecting data relating to marine plastic in the area including variations, volumes and the economic impact of their loss. The second stage is to define the problem, opportunities for reuse and how fishers can be involved in the process. The final stage of the 6-month project requires the development of small scale machinery that can be used to produce 20 prototype products from the recovered materials.

The public awareness of marine plastics and their impacts on our oceans, aquatic life and coastlines has greatly increased in recent years. Reports, campaigns and increasing media coverage have helped to highlight the issues of plastic ingestion and entanglement. Currently, recovered marine plastic is brought to the land in preparation for incineration or landfill, however plastics can last for up to 600 years meaning that they could prove a valuable resource material.

If value can be created from this ‘waste’ material, the incentives to remove it from our oceans will be increased, and both gear loss and recovery could increase mitigation. The material and machinery will also provide opportunities for an increase in localised, small scale manufacture, supporting a local economy for marine waste reuse in the greater Brighton area.

Despite this being their first funded research project in this area, and as readers of The Ecospot are probably aware, the team at Claire Potter Design are not new to marine litter research. Our multi-disciplinary design studio have been working in the area of circular economy design for a number of years, alongside volunteer roles as Global Ghost Gear Initiative Design Consultants for the World Cetacean Alliance, Regional Representatives for environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage, and sitting on the British Standards Committee, MADE; Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing.

To ensure maximum benefit to all parties involved (including the public), we are providing complete transparency during the research. This will include regular reports and updates HERE at The Ecospot as well as public consultation and open meetings. This will provide a greater understanding of the public perception of marine plastic, as well as providing a useful resource for replication in other parts of the UK.

And why are we doing this…?

  • It is estimated that marine litter costs UK local authorities over £18m a year in removal and disposal (Surfers Against Sewage, 2014)
  • It has been estimated that over 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear alone are lost or discarded in our global oceans every year (Macfadyen, et al., 2009)
  • Ghost gear causes the death of around 1 million seabirds and an estimated 100,000 mammals per year through ingestion and entanglement. (Surfers Against Sewage, 2014)

So. Let’s get going eh? Follow our updates on the Precious Marine Plastics project tab above…

(all images by claire potter design)