Recycling the Ghost Nets Haunting Our Ocean

How one teenager started a non-profit to turn a lethal form of marine plastic pollution into useful, crafted objects

by Kaylee Nitsiza

Baskets made of recycled “ghost nets” - fishing nets that have been lost or abandoned in the ocean | ©Natalie McIntosh

Nautical Waters is diving into confronting a certain contributing factor to plastic pollution: ghost nets. Founded by sixteen-year-old Natalie McIntosh, the small non-profit organization focuses on making our oceans cleaner by using ghost nets to create repurposed products. McIntosh is using plastic pollution to fuel a voyage into the depths of sustainability.

McIntosh, then fourteen, was researching for a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) class project when she discovered the existence of ghost gear – fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded – and its relationship with marine life. “I couldn’t really get the thought of it out of my head because millions of animals were dying,” says McIntosh. She learned more about the issue, and then “decided to make a change.”

Fishing nets that have been lost or abandoned in the ocean are perceived as “ghost nets” based on their grave impact on the environment. The Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations (FAO) explains the eerie term “ghost net”: “Ghost fishing occurs when lost or abandoned fishing gear stays in the ocean and traps fish or other marine life, indiscriminately killing whatever it catches.” A net can roam the ocean floor for hundreds of years, continuing to ensnare any marine life that it encounters. This poses a lethal risk to many aquatic species such as turtles, whales, sharks, and fish.

“With over 640,000 tonnes of ghost nets being retrieved every year from our oceans, we are focused on increasing awareness about this rarely discussed issue,” says McIntosh. She quotes the United Nations Environment Programme’s estimate that these nets result in the deaths of more than 136,000 seals, sea lions, and small whales annually.

Inspired to shift the tides between marine life and plastic pollution, McIntosh reached out to local organizations across the East and West coast of Canada, such as Emerald Sea Protection Society in British Columbia and Coastal Action in Nova Scotia. This ultimately led to the founding of Nautical Waters. McIntosh’s developing team primarily consisted of supportive family members. “But I would also say part of our team is our followers, because they’re the ones who really put Nautical Waters out there and tell people about it.”

Ghost nets retrieved by Nautical Waters are repurposed into many daily use objects. These conveniently crafted products are advertised to hundreds of followers on social media and sold online through their Etsy shop. McIntosh explains, “One of the things we do is take lobster rope and repurpose it into door mats. We also make baskets and bowls. We make different kinds of art as well as jewellery.”

McIntosh is working towards charitable status for Nautical Waters, and hopes to continue the conversation with a growing audience. Follow their contribution in retrieving these nets at www.nauticalwaters.com.


Kaylee Nitsiza is an Indigenous youth from the Northwest Territories, whose passion for storytelling and creative writing stems from her Tłicho culture. She is currently a participant in the Watershed Sentinel’s Indigenous Junior Reporter Mentorship Program.

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