Lost nets and fishing gear could be removed from the ocean using new technology in a move that would help reduce the risk of sea life being injured or dying from human debris in the ocean.
Known as "ghost nets", the equipment can choke coral reefs, damage habitats, trap fish, birds and mammals. The nets also break down over time, adding to the amount of microplastic (plastic less than 5mm long) clogging up the sea and finding its way into the food chain.
Researchers from Newcastle University say the NetTag project could help by attaching low-cost location devices to fishing gear to help retrieve it if it goes adrift, as can often happen during storms.
The 'transponders' would be around the size of a match box and cost around £100. The nets themselves can cost thousands, with developers highlighting that there is a financial incentive for fishermen to get involved in the project as well as environmental.
The boxes have to have a low power consumption for the battery to last months in the water. It is designed to only reply with a low volume "ping" when it picks up a tracking signal within its range, meaning sea life will not be constantly disturbed by the devices.
Once located, either fishermen or the fisheries authorities will collect the equipment.
Jeff Neasham, senior lecturer in the School of Engineering, said: "We want to achieve a win-win scenario where modest investment by fishermen can be more than paid back, by avoiding the loss of valuable assets, while also significantly reducing a major source of plastic pollution in the marine environment."