In 2012, a dramatic rescue effort made national news. A 40-foot gray whale was entangled in a giant fishing net off the coast of Dana Point, California. Volunteers struggled to free the entangled whale, and after hours of work, they finally managed to set it free.
Debris-rescue efforts like these occur more often than we’d like. Similar stories are becoming more frequent, and for all types of marine animals — including sharks. As we consume more disposable goods and increase the extent of our fishing efforts, the items we discard, even thousands of miles inland, and the fishing gear we lose or abandon, threaten wildlife.
Overexploitation — overfishing, finning and bycatch — is the single biggest threat to sharks and rays. But during Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris surveys year-round, we cannot overlook the debris connection because we do know that marine debris kills.
Sharks and rays also consume marine debris, either accidentally or through normal feeding behavior (such as the plankton-feeding whale sharks). Scientists have reported a whale shark regurgitating plastic debris while cleaning its gill rakers. And necropsies have revealed fishing gear and other plastic debris in the stomachs of dead sharks.
What can you do to help? Divers can play a major role in addressing the marine-debris problem. Because only scuba divers can see, remove and report underwater debris, through Dive Against Debris, we are uniquely positioned to help.
• Remove debris underwater so that it doesn’t threaten and kill wildlife.
• Tell the world what you’ve seen and recovered underwater.
• Influence the overdue change on land in how we handle our waste.
Visit projectaware.org to find out more about Project AWARE ’s Dive Against Debris survey, and find a location to discover how you can be a hands-on part of the solution removing deadly debris. Information you report to Project AWARE about the types and amounts of debris that scuba divers see underwater makes a difference immediately, and for the future of sharks and all marine wildlife we love to see every time we don a scuba tank.