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Owen Freeman

By Jason Bittel

Imagine if safari-goers in Africa came upon an elephant trudging through the brush covered in a tangle of ropes and netting. What if, on closer inspection, they found that the animal's mouth was blocked, preventing it from eating, or that lengths of rope had coiled around and cut into its legs, making every stride a battle? Imagine if the last thing those tourists saw was the elephant disappearing into the forest, dragging a veritable ball and chain of man-made debris behind it.

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At least 700,000 tons of abandoned fishing gear enter the oceans each year. Pixabay

In an ambitious effort to stop ocean pollution, the European Commission on Monday proposed banning the 10 most common single-use plastic products as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear.

The European Union's executive arm targeted the products that are most often found on the continent's beaches and seas, which together account for 70 percent of its marine litter.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Alessio Viora / Marine Photobank

By Jason Bittel

Divers off the coast of the Cayman Islands last month came face to face with a ghoulish sight: a gigantic mass of abandoned fishing gear and its catch. The monstrous net, as wide and deep as the Hollywood sign is tall, drifted just below the water's surface with tendrils that teemed with hundreds of dead and dying fish and sharks.

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Loggerhead turtle trapped in an abandoned drifting net in the Mediterranean Sea. Jordi Chias / naturepl.com

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.

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