18.11.2014, 21:00:57 (GMT+1)
New tracker app comes to marine animals’ rescue
Smart technology aims to reduce ‘ghost nets’ fishing menace
Abandoned and damaged fishing nets, often referred to as ‘ghost nets’ or ‘ghost gear’, are one of the world’s greatest threats to marine life and ocean ecosystems.
Long after they have been abandoned, lost or discarded, ghost nets continue to trap animals, entangle marine species, smother habitat and cause navigational hazards.
Nets, long lines, fish traps and other plastic, man-made devices to catch fish and marine organisms are capable of ‘ghost fishing’ when left unsecured and unattended. Despite being abandoned, fishing nets frequently trap dolphins, turtles, sharks, porpoises and other marine mammals. When they are caught on a reef, abandoned nets can also destroy hard and soft corals and potentially wipe out complete subsea ecosystems while swaying uncontrollably with the current.
Across the world, environmental groups are trying to contain the problem by locating and removing discarded fishing nets wherever they can – but it’s a massive task. For example, so far this year volunteers at the Northwest Straits Foundation have removed nearly 70 nets containing about 11,700 entangled animals from just one area, the Puget Sound waters close to the U.S. north western Washington coast.
On a global scale, oceanologists believe abandoned fishing nets are a substantial contributor to the estimated 100 million tons of floating waste which, before decomposing into thousands of small pieces of plastic, choke and capture fish, cetaceans and other marine mammals.
Now a group of students in Spain has come up with what is already an award-winning scheme to tackle the ghost nets problem. Students at Elisava, the Barcelona Superior School of Design and Engineering, have developed an innovative system to reduce both the quantity of ‘plastic soup’ floating across our oceans and the phenomenon of the ‘phantom networks’.
Led by design engineering student Alejandro Plasencia, the team has produced the Remora solution. There are four elements in their proposal – a mendable, biodegradable plastic purse fishing net, radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking tags, an RFID reader and an app tracker suitable for smartphones. All four elements are designed to work in synergy to reduce the impact of industrial fishing.
The polyethylene used to make nets is mixed with a controlled-life plastic technology known as d2w which will cause the net to biodegrade after four years. At this point the plastic is converted by d2w into a material which can be bio-assimilated in the environment in much the same way as a leaf.
Yellow and orange tags, each containing an identification chip, are attached at various positions on each net. These are scanned when the net is retrieved and then fishermen receive a report instantly from the associated app which identifies where parts of the net have been ripped open or torn away. This tells them they need to search the surrounding area to find the missing parts.
By working together the reader and app give fishermen the ability to track, retrieve and repair their nets more efficiently or to report them as lost and notify recycling organisations so they can recover them.
This innovative system is a simple, cost-effective and unobtrusive technology which could make a big difference in terms of protecting marine life and reducing the ‘ghost net’ phenomenon. As well as cutting plastic waste in the ocean the innovation offers net life-cycle improvements, saving an estimated 54 per cent of energy for each net.
The Remora solution – developed by Plasencia and Elisava design and engineering colleagues Robert Pla and Joan Farré – has already been chosen as Spain's national winner of the James Dyson Award 2014.
The James Dyson Award is an international competition for students of product design, industrial design and engineering in 18 countries worldwide. It is organised by the James Dyson Foundation, a charity organisation which encourages creativity among the younger generation of designers.