This is the latest in a series to mark World Oceans Day which looks at how plastics and other pollutants are affecting the marine environment. Here, Bermuda Marine Debris Taskforce member Jennifer Gray explains how plastic octopus traps threaten the survival of marine creatures as big as whales.
Bermuda has seen an increase in plastic octopus pots washed up along our coastline. Most of us have likely seen them and have no idea what they are or where they came from.
Local beachcombers, driven by concern and curiosity, connected with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Tom Pitchford who advised these were traps to catch octopus and that we can tell from pot shapes and markings where they come from. “Flat-topped” pots are from Portugal and can easily be traced to their respective fishing vessel by initials branded into the pots. “Round-topped” pots come from northwest African countries such as Morocco, western Sahara, and Mauritania and may also show branded initials.
The common octopus seeks refuge on the seabed to avoid predators and to spawn and protect eggs. Such shelters can be natural cracks in rocks, holes in the substrate, empty shells or man-made such as plastic bottles, buckets or barrels.
The tendency of this species to seek shelter has led to the development of a type of artisanal fishery using pots strung together sometimes several hundred at a time on long lines that can extend between five and 20 kilometres and are attached to a surface float.