From above, the ocean often appears as an endless horizon of blue and turquoise waters, but beneath the depths, it contains hidden traps for many of its inhabitants. Every year, an estimated 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is left behind in our oceans killing at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales. World Animal Protection is tackling the issue head on with a new program, called the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. This innovative new campaign will bring awareness to the issue of lost or abandoned gear and work to eliminate this serious threat from the marine environment.

“Discarded ghost gear is endangering our sea life,” says Lynn Kavanagh, campaign manager with World Animal Protection. “Fur seals, sea lions, humpback and right whales are among the many iconic marine animals falling victim to entanglement in fishing gear. Animals caught may drown within minutes, or endure long, slow deaths lasting months or even years, suffering from debilitating wounds, infection and starvation.”

The issue with fishing gear is that once it’s lost, it can be difficult to locate. Lost gear can travel thousands of kilometres from its origin and the owners or fisheries associated with discarded gear typically remains unknown. The best way to manage this problem is through prevention initiatives, those aimed at reducing the amount of gear that ends up in the water in the first place.

In November 2014, World Animal Protection hosted a round table meeting to discuss the objectives and framework of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. It was supported and endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Aquafil Group, a global synthetic fibre manufacturer and co-founder of the Healthy Seas initiative. Delegates from non-governmental organizations, governments, research institutes and businesses pledged support for the initiative.

It’s not just researchers and industry that can help the Initiative though; the public can assist in gathering information too. If you find ghost gear at a dive site or on a beach, report what you see here. Information collected by people like you will help demonstrate the global scale of this issue. Keep in mind that you may encounter an animal entangled in ghost gear. If so it is important to take the following actions:

– Report your sighting immediately to the Marine Mammal Response Network by calling 1.800.465.4336 or notify radio channel 16

– Do not approach or try to disentangle the animals yourself

– To greatly increase the chance of successful disentanglement, standby the animal and observe from a safe distance (at least 100m) until trained officers arrive

Learn more about the threat of entanglement in the threats section of wildwhales.org.