Researchers have found that waste fishing gear in the Ganges poses a serious threat to wildlife including otters, turtles, and dolphins.
The study, published in the journal ‘Science of the Total Environment’, said that entanglement in fishing gear could harm species, including the critically endangered three-striped roofed turtle and the Ganges river dolphin.
Surveys along the length of the river, from the mouth in Bangladesh to the Himalayas in India, show that levels of waste fishing gear are highest near the sea.
Fishing nets – all made of plastic – were the most common type of gear found.
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Interviews with local fishers revealed high rates of fishing equipment being discarded in the river – driven by short gear lifespans and lack of appropriate disposal systems.
The study, led by researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK, with an international team including researchers from India and Bangladesh, was conducted as part of the National Geographic Society’s “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition.
“The Ganges River supports some of the world’s largest inland fisheries, but no research has been done to assess plastic pollution from this industry, and its impacts on wildlife,” said study author Sarah Nelms from Exeter.
“Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife, but our threat assessment focussed on entanglement, which is known to injure and kill a wide range of marine species,” Nelms added.
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The researchers used a list of 21 river species of “conservation concern” identified by the Wildlife Institute for India.
They combined existing information on entanglements of similar species worldwide with the new data on levels of waste fishing gear in the Ganges to estimate which species are most at risk.
Speaking about why so much fishing gear was found in the river, Nelms said: “There is no system for fishers to recycle their nets. Most fishers told us they mend and repurpose nets if they can, but if they can’t do that the nets are often discarded in the river.”
“Many held the view that the river ‘cleans it away’, so one useful step would be to raise awareness of the real environmental impacts,” Nelms added.
The researchers noted that this is a complex problem that will require multiple solutions – all of which must work for both local communities and wildlife. (IANS)