Protecting ocean wildlife

April 13, 2021

Winners of the annual Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award announced

An initiative to reduce lost or discarded fishing gear, known as ghost gear, near St. Paul Island, Alaska and a pilot project to assess the feasibility of establishing the first ever ghost net collection and recycling system on the River Ganges, India are the two selected winners of the 2nd annual Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award.

The Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award was established in 2019 to honour Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) co-founder, United Nations worker, and former World Animal Protection campaigner, Joanna Toole, 36, whose life was tragically taken in the Ethiopian airlines crash in March 2019.

The Joanna Toole Annual Ghost Gear Solutions Award is given to the most deserving projects that submitted compelling strategies to tackle abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, also known as ghost gear. The combined value of the prize is USD 60,000 which will be shared between the winners. Applications were reviewed by experts from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), the Joanna Toole Foundation and World Animal Protection.

After an impressive round of submissions, the first awardee  is Blue Ocean Gear, a US-based organisation, focused on tackling the issue of ghost gear by preventing gear loss using their Smart Buoy technology.  Their project focuses on reducing ghost gear and its detrimental impact on sea life in the marine environment near St. Paul Island, Alaska.

The second awardee is a project submitted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to assess the feasibility of establishing the first ever ghost net collection and recycling system on the River Ganges, India, to mitigate the impact of discarded fishing gear on threatened wildlife, particularly the Ganges river dolphin.

Ghost gear refers to any fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded, and is the most harmful form of marine debris to ocean life, and among the most prevalent. An estimated 640,000 tons of ghost gear is left in our oceans each year – more than one metric ton every minute. It also represents a significant threat to yields and income for fishers. By providing support to innovative projects taking on this threat, this award will make our waters safer for marine wildlife, and will help safeguard the livelihoods of coastal communities that depend on our ocean – something that Joanna dedicated her professional life to achieving. 

Adrian Toole, Joanna’s father, awards judge and Chair of the Joanna Toole Foundation said:Joanna was a devoted animal lover, who dedicated her professional life to this work. Following her tragic death, we decided to set up a charitable foundation to continue her work on animal welfare. This yearly award is a key component of the many initiatives that we plan to keep her legacy and mission alive. Jo is our guide and inspiration in this work and the Trustees thank World Animal Protection, Ocean Conservancy and the GGGI for their contribution to this award.”

Ingrid Giskes, Director, Global Ghost Gear Initiative said:
“We are so proud to be able to announce the winners of the second edition of the Joanna Toole Annual Ghost Gear Solutions Award. This Award recognises Joanna’s immense contribution to improving our ocean’s health by putting ghost gear, the most harmful form of marine debris, on the international agenda as central to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Kate Nustedt, Global Wildlife Director, World Animal Protection said: “Joanna Toole was driven by her love of animals, and she worked tirelessly to make our oceans safer for wildlife. We are proud to continue her legacy by supporting more organisations that will help save the lives of marine animals.”

In 2014, World Animal Protection’s Sea Change team, co-led by Joanna Toole, established the GGGI, a multi-stakeholder, public-private partnership committed to driving solutions to the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide. The GGGI aims to improve the health and productivity of marine ecosystems, protect marine life, and safeguard human health and livelihoods. The GGGI currently brings together over 100 partners including the fishing industry, the private sector, academia, governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and is hosted under Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program.

The Joanna Toole Annual Ghost Gear Solutions Award is made possible by support from World Animal Protection, Ocean Conservancy, the Government of Norway and Joanna’s friends, family members and colleagues.

For more information on the Joanna Toole Annual Ghost Gear Solutions Award, please visit

For more information about the GGGI, please visit

Notes to editors

Further quotes:

Kortney Opshaug, Ph.D. is the CEO and founder of Blue Ocean Gear:

Ghost fishing is one of the most devastating environmental issues facing our oceans today, and we are honoured to receive this award as it supports Blue Ocean Gear’s efforts to be a part of the global solution in reducing ghost gear. Our project will demonstrate our technology to prevent gear loss by using GPS-equipped sensor buoys on fishing gear in the St. Paul Island, Alaska region, where fishing is a significant part of the culture and economy. The area is incredibly rich in marine life, but also fragile in its vulnerability to the impacts of derelict gear. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to work with the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (ACSPI) and St. Paul Island fishers to determine the best practices for reducing gear loss, as well as pilot our smart buoy systems. These efforts will strengthen the community’s ability to protect the resources that surround them while continuing to fish sustainably.

Surshti Patel, ZSL, Plastics and Poverty Technical Specialist:

I am honoured and delighted to receive this award, which is particularly meaningful as a young British Indian woman committed to conservation. Working with our implementation partners The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and local communities, we really hope to use this opportunity to catalyse meaningful change. Our project came from findings from our work with communities during the National Geographic Sea to Source: Ganges expedition and builds on the existing WII Ganga Rejuvenation Programme. We found that local fishers had no options to deal with fishing nets at end of life so it often ends up as ghost gear, an issue poorly documented in freshwater environments. We are excited to use this award to assess the scope to introduce a solution we developed in the Philippines (Coast 4C) to establish a supply chain that turns old fishing nets into carpet tiles.

About Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

About the Joanna Toole Foundation

The mission of the Foundation is to continue the global work of campaigner Joanna Toole in advancing the welfare of animals, in particular that of marine fauna. We achieve this through grants for practical action and training, for education on anthropogenic threats, and for scientific research. Website:

About World Animal Protection

World Animal Protection has moved the world to protect animals for more than 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. The organisation’s activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care; working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed; and saving the lives of animals and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them in disaster situations. World Animal Protection influences decision-makers to put animals on the global agenda and inspires people to change animals’ lives for the better.

To learn more about World Animal Protection campaigns, our news and successes, and how you can take action for animals, visit: