A pod of spinner dolphins off the west coast of Oahu, Hawaii

Global Ghost Gear Initiative is key to protecting sea life and achieving United Nations goals



Pressure is growing for countries to reduce marine litter and meet United Nations commitments. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) we lead is taking on a key role to help countries find practical solutions.

By Ingrid Giskes, global head of the Sea Change campaign

Lost and abandoned fishing gear, known as ‘ghost gear’, is a significant global problem. It damages vulnerable ecosystems, contributes to declining fish stocks and once broken down, can even enter our food chain. 

It is one of the most potent threats to marine life and the welfare of marine animals and has caused a 10% decline in fish stocks globally.

In 2015, the United Nations established 17 ambitious global targets, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Goal 14 is entirely focused on our oceans. The first target under this goal, target 14.1, concentrates on marine pollution and calls for a significant reduction of marine pollution of all kinds, including ghost gear by 2025.

The first ever United Nations Oceans Conference will take place in New York in June. The aim of the event is to turn Goal 14 into tangible, positive change for our oceans and the life within them. That’s where we come in.

GGGI helps drive solutions

In February, my campaign colleagues and I attended a preparatory meeting for the United Nations Ocean Conference, representing the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI).

This preparatory meeting set seven themes for the conference, two of which are on marine pollution and sustainable fisheries. We spoke to countries on the importance of these two themes and how GGGI action to tackle ghost gear can contribute to the delivering of these ambitions.

Set up by us two years ago, the GGGI is an alliance of non-government organizations, academics and fishing industry leaders that aims to reduce the amount of ghost gear in the oceans.

Related: Sea life sentience: what do fish really feel?

We’re proud of the GGGI and believe it is key to realizing Goal 14’s targets.

The GGGI’s contribution to these global United Nations targets will help end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of marine animals affected by ghost gear every year, by:

  • supporting preventative measures to help stop fishing gear ending up in our oceans. This includes making port reception facilities available, and ensuring harmful subsidies are turned into positive incentives for the fishing industry
  • championing the uptake of the GGGI’s best practice framework so that seafood companies start making positive changes in their supply chains
  • encouraging removal action of ghost gear from our oceans
  • contributing to a global understanding of the scale and severity of the ghost gear problem, by sharing data with the GGGI
  • support the training national or regional authorities on the disentanglement of marine animals, including iconic species such as turtles, whales and seals
  • pledging support for and voluntary contributions to the International Whaling Commission, which rescues entangled whales.

Working together to protect animals at scale

Over the coming months, we hope as many countries as possible will join our effort to rid oceans of ghost gear and prevent more from getting in. At the United Nations Conference in June, we want to present the GGGI as a key partner in helping countries to meet their commitments under SDG 14.

The preparatory meeting gave us the opportunity to make sure that ghost gear and the deadly threat it poses wasn’t forgotten.

It was great to be involved at this influential level of action planning for our oceans. The United Nations Ocean Conference is a prime opportunity to galvanize support and make sure that countries pledge actions that protect animals.

Support for sea life from around the world

At the preparatory meeting, we also hosted a discussion about ghost gear with the Permanent Missions of the Kingdom of Belgium and the Kingdom of Tonga to the United Nations.

Next, read about our work to save whales from fishing gear entanglement in Latin America

The event was a success, and delegates commented that the discussion had been a real eye-opener and had offered them tangible steps on how the GGGI can help them act.

"Tongans are people of the ocean and the seas. The oceans, our ‘moana’ is our heritage. We must prevent fishing gear being lost in our oceans as it causes serious environmental, as well as economic and social impacts on the marine environment and we strongly support action through the Global Ghost Gear Initiative," said Mr. Tevita Suka Mangisi, deputy permanent representative of Tonga to the United Nations.

We must act now

The time to move the world for our oceans and sea animals is now. Countries are recognizing the urgent need to rid our oceans of these death traps.

Click here to find out more about our Sea Change campaign, and the work we do to protect marine life.

You can also follow the #SaveOurOceans hashtag on social media to learn more about the United Nations' work protecting our oceans and marine life.

Ghost gear is one of the most potent threats to marine life and the welfare of marine animals and has caused a 10% decline in fish stocks globally.