Blue Ghost Gear, Alaska - World Animal Protection

Protecting ocean animals: winners of the annual Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award announced


An initiative to reduce lost or discarded fishing gear, known as ghost gear, near St. Paul Island, Alaska, and a pilot to assess establishing the first ever ghost net collection and recycling system on the River Ganges, India, are the two winners of the 2nd annual Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award

Header image credit: Blue Ocean Gear

The Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award was established in 2019 to honour Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) co-founder, United Nations worker, and former World Animal Protection campaigner, Joanna Toole, 36, whose life was tragically taken in the Ethiopian airlines crash in March 2019.

The award is given to the projects that submitted the most compelling ways to tackle abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, also known as ghost gear. The combined value of the prize is USD 60,000 which is shared between the winners.

Applications were reviewed by experts from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), the Joanna Toole Foundation and World Animal Protection.

The winners

After an impressive round of submissions, the first awardee is Blue Ocean Gear, a US-based organisation, focused on tackling the issue of ghost gear by preventing gear loss using their Smart Buoy technology. Their project focuses on reducing ghost gear and its detrimental impact on sea life in the marine environment near St. Paul Island, Alaska.

Joanna Toole holding ghost gear on a beach - World Animal Protection - Animals in the wild

Blue Ocean Gear cleaning up ghost gear in Alaska. Image credit: Blue Ocean Gear

The second awardee is a project submitted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to assess the feasibility of establishing the first ever ghost net collection and recycling system on the River Ganges, India.

This would mitigate the impact of discarded fishing gear on threatened wildlife, particularly the Ganges river dolphin.

We’re excited to see how both projects develop and hopefully make big, lasting changes to protect ocean animals and other wildlife.

Kortney Opshaug, Ph.D., CEO and founder, Blue Ocean Gear said:

"We are honoured to receive this award as it supports Blue Ocean Gear’s efforts to be a part of the global solution in reducing ghost gear.

"Our project will demonstrate our technology to prevent gear loss by using GPS-equipped sensor buoys on fishing gear in the St. Paul Island, Alaska region, where fishing is a significant part of the culture and economy. The area is incredibly rich in marine life, but also fragile in its vulnerability to the impacts of derelict gear."

What is ghost gear?

Ghost gear refers to any fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded.

It’s the most harmful form of marine debris to ocean life, and among the most prevalent. An estimated 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear is left in our oceans each year – more than one metric tonne every minute.

By providing support to innovative projects taking on this threat, this award will make our waters safer for marine wildlife and will help safeguard the livelihoods of coastal communities that depend on our ocean – something that Joanna dedicated her professional life to achieving. 

Joanna’s animal protection legacy

Adrian Toole, Joanna’s father, awards judge and Chair of the Joanna Toole Foundation, said:

"Joanna was a devoted animal lover, who dedicated her professional life to this work. Following her tragic death, we decided to set up a charitable foundation to continue her work on animal welfare. This yearly award is a key component of the many initiatives that we plan to keep her legacy and mission alive. Jo is our guide and inspiration in this work and the Trustees thank World Animal Protection, Ocean Conservancy and the GGGI for their contribution to this award."

Joanna Toole holding ghost gear on a beach - World Animal Protection - Animals in the wild

Joanna Toole holding ghost gear

In 2014, our Sea Change campaign team, co-led by Joanna Toole, established the GGGI, a multi-stakeholder, public-private partnership committed to driving solutions to the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide.

The GGGI aims to improve the health and productivity of marine ecosystems, protect marine life, and safeguard human health and livelihoods. The GGGI currently brings together over 100 partners including the fishing industry, the private sector, academia, governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and is hosted under Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas programme.

The Joanna Toole Annual Ghost Gear Solutions Award is made possible by support from World Animal Protection, Ocean Conservancy, the Government of Norway and Joanna’s friends, family members and colleagues.

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