MarineQuest

Ghost (net) Busters

The Problem:

Derelict fishing gear is haunting our oceans, but there is nothing supernatural about the impact of ghost nets. They are very real to the millions of marine organisms that are injured or killed by them yearly in our oceans. When fishing nets are lost, they continue to fish as ghost nets and impact all kinds of marine organisms, capturing and killing crustaceans, fish, turtles, birds, sharks, and marine mammals - even whales. Ghost nets also damage underwater habitats, contribute to marine pollution, and cause economic loss for fishermen. These nets can drift for decades before washing ashore, breaking down into smaller pieces, or being pulled out of the ocean by humans.

What we are doing about it:

Watson the Whale

We have developed a creative and engaging curriculum for 5th though 9th grade. Each Ghost (net) Busters program includes a discussion of the problems associated with ghost nets, followed by a hands-on, inquiry-based STEAM learning activity. 

Over the course of the program, we traveled around North Carolina with our life-size inflatable whale classroom to educate youth on environmental impacts of ghost nets. We visited 75 schools and spoke with 14,074 students about the issue and the solutions! We also visited summer camps and attending public events, reaching an additional 3,823 people!

Be a part of the solution:

  • Help with a beach clean-up and remove trash (including fishing nets) from beaches
  • Eat fish that have been harvested sustainably and with safer fishing methods (use Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch as a guide to help you choose!)
  • Spread the word! Teach others about the impacts of ghost fishing gear


For sections of our video, check out our playlist!

Engineering Competition:

After our visit to schools, students were invited to participate in an engineering competition that challenged them to come up with creative solutions to the ghost net problem through technological innovation. Our first competition was held on April 28, 2018, at UNCW’s Center for Marine Science. Congratulations to our first place winner, Carolina J., and our runner up team, Amelia L., Alexandra V., and Francis B. from Morehead City Elementary School! Thank you to our judges, Ann Pabst, Bonnie Monteleone, Shawna Rowe, and Jon Vanderfleet. 

We held another competition on  November 3, 2018, at UNCW’s Watson College of Education. This time, we invited families from around the region to participate in an engineering challenge to design solutions to ghost fishing. Congratulations to our winners: the Norris Family (Most Efficient Design), the Schweitzer Family (Most Practical Design), the Caddell Family (Most Innovative Design), and Jasper Collins & the Thraikill Family (Most Sustainable Design). Thank you to our judges: Jasmine Gaston, Jason White, Bonnie Monteleone, and Shawna Rowe. Click here to read more.

LauraLaura Sirak-Schaeffer, Ghost (net) Busters Program Coordinator

Laura comes to us from the Museum of Science, Boston where she was an informal STEM educator facilitating school field trips and public programs. She earned her BS from Stockton University and her MS in Marine Science from the University of New England where she researched seal-fishery interactions. Laura will be the lead educator traveling around the state to implement Ghost (net) Busters.