Many of us are unaware of things out of our sight. Unseen below the ocean’s surface, abandoned fishing nets and fishing gears are causing untold damage in the water. A student national winner for the James Dyson Award invented biodegradable fishing nets, trying to fix the problem with a simple and cheap solution.
Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear has become a global problem. A technical paper jointly issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) back in 2009 estimates that “640,000 tonnes of such abandoned nets are spread across the world’s oceans.”
Called ‘Ghost Fishing Nets’, these plastic fishing nets are often abandoned in the seas and float around and continue to catch fish or trapp marine mammals like whales and dolphins, while a large amount of other non-target organisms are trapped and drowned. At the same time, these plastic nets are releasing toxins into the water before breaking down into “plastic pollution soup” which is eventually eaten by all kinds of ocean organisms. Countless environmental hazards like beach litter and the oceanic garbage patches are not only pushing forward trans-governmental actions, but also individual inventors to think about a better design for fishing nets that cause less harms to the ocean habitat.
Spanish engineering student Alejandro Plasencia has launched his four-in-one solution Remora, which includes a biodegradable net, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, an RFID reader and an app to fix these environmental issues. It’s all about a small, cheap and simple system to reduce “the volume of plastic soup floating in the seas as a byproduct of industrial fishing and the ghost net phenomenon”, as told on his website and in his prototypes video.
“We looking for a very simple, cheap, small unobtrusive piece of technology which could enter the system and make a huge difference,” – Alejandro Plasencia (the student inventor).
As part of his Remora kit, eye-catching colors like orange and bright yellow plastic tags are embedded with RFID chips which fishermen can attach to existing nets. The RFID reader together with a SMART phone app will enable fishermen to trace, retrieve and repair their nets, which might have been lost in adverse weather. Sometimes if it is too costly and risky to retrieve the lost gears in the unknown depth of the sea, fishermen can declare them as lost and notify local NGOs with the RFID tracking information, so other parties who can mobilise better resources can recover them. Ecologically speaking, the nets are all biodegradable and would break down after a certain period of time.
The system became a finalist for this year’s global international student design award James Dyson Foundation Award and was the national winner for Spain. This localised and low-cost solution is expected to widely spread among fishing communities in Spain and other small scale fishing communities.