By Bailey, Coastal Studies for Girls
On October 28 the Coastal Studies for Girls class set off to volunteer with the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation (GOMLF). We were helping with the Derelict Fishing Gear Recovery and Disposal Project. The project is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sponsored two-year pilot project that feeds into the Fishing for Energy Program. It’s purpose is to recover, document, and properly dispose of derelict fishing gear. Derelict fishing gear is such a problem because it is changing habitat for many species. Whales can become caught in nets and die, as can other marine animals. Humans are littering the ocean.
The Derelict Fishing Gear Recovery and Disposal Program has tried to reduce the amount of fishing gear dumped into the ocean. Fishermen from all over Maine can bring their gear to a spot designated by GOMLF. There the fishing gear is put into dumpsters, which are taken to recycling plants. Another part of the project is to drag a kind of grapple gear in certain places throughout the ocean where unusable and abandoned traps are thought to be. Once the gear is recovered, it is disposed of. Also, if derelict fishing gear is found on the shore, it is taken back, and the ID tag on the trap will show whose it is. The GOMLF then calls the lobstermen and gives them back their gear.
The drop-off location of the day was on the commercial docks of Portland, Maine. We met up with Laura Ludwig, one of the partners of GOMLF. She gave us a quick tutorial on how to log lobstermen in. We asked the men for their names, how many traps they had, whether any of their traps were wood, the number of buoys, and whether they came in a truck, trailer, or car. We also asked for their identification number, which is a number that lobsterman are given to distinguish their traps from others. After the check-in, the girls unloaded the trucks and stacked the gear. Heavy equipment crushed the traps and threw them into the dumpsters. Rope, nets, and buoys were put into a separate dumpster.
At first the day was slow, with one or two trucks coming in with just ten or so traps on each. Between loads of traps, we took it upon ourselves to clean up the docks. We picked up useless and unused rope, and threw it into the dumpster. We also picked up trash that was scattered everywhere, and were amazed at how much we found. When we were done, the dock area looked so much better!
Late in the morning the trucks started rolling in, some with trailers hauling more than a hundred traps. A line formed of lobstermen waiting their turns. All the girls worked hard to get every trap counted and stacked. We had to make sure the wooden traps were put in separate piles too. There were 892 traps in all -- a huge haul for the day. Then, right after lunch, a lobster boat pulled up to the docks, loaded with 200 traps! We unloaded them all. The whole collection was quite an accomplishment.
Can you imagine 892 lobster traps? When stacked, it makes about the size of four fully packed school buses. Now imagine all 892 traps plus 4 barrels of rope on the bottom of the ocean. They do not disintegrate. They're not going anywhere. Because of the GOMLF and the help of our volunteer work, all of this trash is being reused and recycled. None of it is ending up in a landfill or at the bottom of the ocean.
All of this junk was collected in just one day from 8am to 3pm. This project has helped preserve our ocean. We need to keep the oceans clean. This whole project has saved over 2 million pounds of rope from sitting at the bottom of the ocean, and this is all from just the Gulf of Maine! Colorful rope that was collected is being ground up for use as aggregate in Plas-krete blocks, or sent to a plastics processing plant which will transform it into low grade products, such as nursery trays and plant pots. People are also using it to make doormats across the U.S. The metal from traps is also being recycled.
This whole project has taught me the importance of recycling. This project helps conserve the ocean’s natural habitats and protects the marine life that lives there. I learned how lobstermen have to register and mark their traps and how extensive the amount of derelict fishing gear is. There is so much more derelict fishing gear at the bottom of the ocean that still could be reclaimed and recycled. This project is reducing this amount and encouraging fishermen to recycle and maintain their gear. I’m so thankful to have had this opportunity to learn and to understand the importance of recycling.
Coastal Studies for Girls is the country’s only residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls. CSG is dedicated to girls who have a love for learning and discovery, an adventurous spirit, and a desire to challenge themselves.