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Tackling ‘ghost nets’: Local solutions to a global issue in northern Australia


  • Riki Gunn,

  • Britta Denise Hardesty,

  • James Butler

  • The work of Indigenous rangers along Australia’s Gulf coast is helping to address the effects of marine debris on local wildlife, and raising awareness of greater efforts needed in the region to address a global issue

Riki Gunn is Project Coordinator, Carpentaria Ghost Nets Programme (PO Box 155, Karumba, Qld 4891, Australia; Tel: +61 (0)7 4745 9661; Email: Britta Denise Hardesty is a Research Scientist with CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems (PO Box 780, Atherton, Qld 4883, Australia; Tel: +61 (0)7 4091 8814; Email: [The first two authors contributed equally to this work.] James Butler is a Senior Research Scientist with CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems (PO Box 12139, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia; Tel: +61 4059 5505; Email:


Summary  We describe the inception and development of the Carpentaria Ghost Nets Programme, located across the Gulf of Carpentaria, which spans north Queensland and the Northern Territory. The program has grown from a small grass-roots idea addressing issues around marine debris to become an internationally acknowledged project headed by the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group. This program, involving more than 18 Indigenous communities and over 90 Indigenous rangers, has become a way of building bridges across cultures and communities for a shared, common interest in land and sea protection. By incorporating traditional values and approaches to managing an international issue at a local scale, we have worked with local communities to increase pride and ownership on country whilst providing transferrable job skills. Success of this program ultimately depends upon the continued active engagements of the Indigenous communities and ranger groups. The project aims to address the fundamental issue of tackling the ghost nets problem at its source through cross-cultural interactions between rangers and fishermen, increasing public, political and economic awareness, and ultimately reducing the incidental and intentional loss of fishing nets that act as ghost nets and result in tremendous biological, cultural and economic impacts. By putting in place long term management measures to ensure monitoring efforts, we can track ghost net debris arrival and changes through time, providing information to policy and cultural changes at regional and international scales.