640,000 Metric Tons of Ghost Gear Enters Oceans Each Year
Governments around the world are waking up to the scourge of plastics on our oceans and its creatures by banning items such as shopping bags and drinking straws. But an often-overlooked form of plastic waste is also a major threat to our seas: "ghost" gear.
A report released Thursday from World Animal Protection highlights that every year 640,000 metric tons of fishing nets are lost or discarded in our oceans each year, trapping and killing countless marine mammals, including endangered whales, seals and turtles. Shallow coral reef habitats also suffer further degradation from the gear, which can take up to 600 years to decompose.
"Worryingly, the level of ghost gear has increased in recent years and it is likely to grow further as fishing efforts intensify all over the world," said Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders of Belgium, a partner of World Animal Protection's Global Ghost Gear Initiative that's aiming for ghost-gear-free seas.
Ghost Gear kills millions of animals a year & causes great suffering to many more. Heartbreakingly, many beautiful… https://t.co/YKgFy1PByw— World Animal Protection UK (@World Animal Protection UK)1519902573.0
Unfortunately, World Animal Protection's report, Ghosts beneath the waves, finds that most of the seafood industry's biggest companies are not doing enough to address deadly fishing gear.
The report ranked 15 seafood giants and their approaches to fishing equipment on a 1 to 5 scale, but found that none of the companies ranked in the top two categories of "setting best practice" or have responsible handling of their fishing gear as "integral to business strategy."
The results also showed that 80 percent of the assessed companies do not have a clear position on ghost fishing gear nor do they even publicly acknowledge the issue.
However, the report exemplified Seattle-based Trident Seafoods for actively working to collect and transport derelict fishing nets from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. These end-of-life fishing nets are removed, bundled and transported to Denmark for recycling by GGGI participant Plastix.
Tuna suppliers Tri Marine is also collaborating with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative to trial and implement best practices for the use of their biodegradable Fish Aggregating Devices.
The report concludes that companies who join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative perform better at addressing ghost gear in their supply chains and contribute to the delivery of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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