Ghost gear is fishing equipment that has been lost, disposed, or abandoned at sea. It is considered to be the most harmful form of marine debris and accounts for more than 640,000 tonnes of oceanic waste, each year. Gear is lost due to many different reasons, including severe weather, interaction with wildlife or shipping vessels, and occasionally even intentional discard.
This negatively impacts the economy, as well as adversely affects the marine life. A study from World Animal Protection found that ghost gear contributes to 10% of all marine debris, and takes approximately 600 years to decompose. Annually, more than 136,000 species of whales, dolphins, seals, and turtles become entangled, mutilated or killed by the ghost gear. Additionally, they found that fish stock declined by 5 to 30% due to ensnarement.
Fish and seafood are among Canada’s main exports of food product. In 2016, lobster export, alone, was over $2 billion dollars out of the total $6.6 billion dollars from all fish and seafood exports. With the longest coastline in the world, it is imperative to our economy and fishing industry that we make efforts to retrieve ghost gear. Loss of fishing gear is loss of income to fisherman who must now pay for new gear, in addition to the revenue they lose each season from the traps if they had been in-tact and working. By collecting ghost gear, we not only improve the health of the marine ecosystems, but we protect our fisheries and communities who depend on the ocean for their livelihood.
In recent years, there have been more global efforts put forth to locate and retrieve ghost gear. In doing so, the current removal methods involved are using drags or large industrial hooks to try and collect gear. The problem with these current methods is that retrieval efforts are largely dependent on location reports from local fisherman, or researchers that have encountered the gear. Occasionally, corporations will loosely mark the coordinates of their missing gear upon realization, but time may have elapsed between the gear gone missing and the actual report of its time lost. In the meantime, the ocean current, wildlife, or other vessel interference may have altered the indicated location of the lost gear. In some cases, corporations may have deliberately dumped gear, or regulators were failed to be notified, and are unaware gear has been lost at all. In such events, Scuba divers are often the only hope for retrieval. They are sent down at estimated loss locations to cut gear loose and deploy float bags for recovery. Even when sonar surveys are conducted prior, retrieval operators are unable to know the type of gear lost or the extent to which it is damaged. This is where we at Marine Thinking have designed a solution.
Our method is to send down our intelligent high-speed artificial intelligence (AI)-equipped remotely operated vehicle (ROV), to scan the ocean floor. ROV operators can set ghost gear as its target (example label lobster traps, drags, nets, chains or ropes, etc.) and then deploy the ROV to let it search, locate, identify and process underwater. Due to our industrial leading AI system, our ROV is incredibly self-sufficient and able to record and process data in real-time. The ROV can be used with unmanned ships, and through its vast cloud data transmission capability, the information collected will transmit back to the operator, eliminating need of divers, and reducing the risks associated with human resources.
With support from our ROV’s underwater observation, we gain visual feedback from the information collected that is transmitted back to a computer/tablet terminal. Automatically our system constructs a three-dimensional (3D) sea floor map that will give us an accurate layout and a better understanding of where the ghost gear landed, and in what condition. Additionally, the ROV communicates other important details such as the exact GPS coordinates of the gear, its recorded depth, and other important information such as whether it’s trapped, or partially buried, and whether there is wildlife entangled within. This will allow us to have better management and coordination of retrieval efforts.
All the ghost gear information is designed to be uploaded to our cloud platform in real-time. Eventually a ghost gear map will be available to the general public with a feature for reporting and retrieving ghost gear. With our AI ability to map out ghost gear and preview condition, we are able to cut operational costs, set retrieval missions up for success, and safeguard the marine ecosystem by eliminating the need to introduce more fishing gear that ultimately may cause further disruption or even damage to the seabed. Additionally, we can protect human health and marine-mammal injury from the dangers of diving and getting hurt or caught in the ghost gear, respectively.