Waste fishing gear threatens endangered Ganges wildlife

Waste fishing gear in the River Ganges poses a threat to critically endangered wildlife including the three-striped roofed turtle and Ganges river dolphin, new research shows. Fishing nets – all made of plastic – were the most common type of gear found.

The study by the University of Exeter says entanglement in fishing gear could harm species including the critically endangered three-striped roofed turtle and the endangered Ganges river dolphin.

Interviews with local fishers revealed high rates of fishing equipment being discarded in the river driven by short gear lifespans and lack of appropriate disposal systems, according to a statement.

“The Ganges River supports some of the world’s largest inland fisheries, but no research has been done to assess plastic pollution from this industry, and its impacts on wildlife,” said Dr Sarah Nelms, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife, but our threat assessment focussed on entanglement, which is known to injure and kill a wide range of marine species.”

Speaking about the why so much fishing gear was found in the river, Dr Nelms said: “Most fishers told us they mend and repurpose nets if they can, but if they can’t do that the nets are often discarded in the river.”

National Geographic Fellow and science co-lead of the expedition Professor Heather Koldewey, of the Zoological Society of London and the University of Exeter, said the study’s findings offer hope for solutions based on “circular economy” – where waste is dramatically reduced by reusing materials.

“A high proportion of the fishing gear we found was made of nylon 6, which is valuable and can be used to make products including carpets and clothing,” she said.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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