Fiona, the turtle: The plastic leatherback that reveals the true cost ocean pollution


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Fiona has been traveling all over the globe to raise awareness about the dangers of ghost gear that is threatening the lives of thousands marine animals.

The leatherback turtle is truly amazing.

These ocean giants are the largest turtles and can weigh in at 700kg. They are also very well-traveled.

The greatest migration of any air-breathing marine creature is undertaken by Western Pacific leatherbacks. The epic journey across the Pacific takes between 10-12 months and takes them through many countries. This dangerous migration has deadly consequences.

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The leatherback crisis

In the Western Pacific, leatherbacks have declined by 80% in three generations and are now considered critically endangered. These gentle creatures are also at risk from ghost fishing gear and plastics, which pose a significant threat to their breeding grounds.

Their migration route takes them through some the most heavily fished waters on Earth as well as the North Pacific garbage patches – the largest accumulations of ocean plastic debris.

Many leatherbacks are killed because they mistake plastic for jellyfish, their natural prey. Many become entangled and are unable to breathe.

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Meet Fiona

Fiona isn’t your typical leatherback turtle. Fiona was created entirely from salvaged ghost equipment, which is lost, discarded, or abandoned fishing gear.

Surfers Against Sewage teamed up to collect material for Fiona and other ghost-gear sculptures. In 2015, over 3,000 volunteers removed ghost gear from 150 kms of beaches.

Ghost gear: The problem

Although many are aware of the dangers that plastic addiction presents to marine life, few people know about the dangers of ghost gear.

Ghost gear causes havoc below the waves and has killed more than 136,000 large whales.

Once a net, hook or other fishing gear is set adrift it continues to do what it was meant to do: trap and kill. It can do this for as long as 600 years.

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Fiona’s Migration

Fiona’s material was made from English materials, but it is international in origin.

Fiona was born in 1997 and has been working tirelessly to spread awareness about ghost gear and the devastating effects it has on leatherback turtles, as well as other marine life, since her creation.

Her migration so far has taken her from London’s World Animal Protection offices to California’s Thai Union offices. She also stopped at the Natural History Museum in London and other local events.

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Leatherback turtles need our help

We advocate, along with our partners in the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), for best practices in managing fishing gear.

We successfully lobbyed the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) to adopt guidelines to tag fishing gear. This allows gear to be tracked back to its source and can be recovered more easily. It is an important tool for combating illegal fishing.

This is a huge win for leatherbacks, who can get caught in ghost gear. This was possible thanks to the support of our GGGI partners.

Get the industry involved

Thai Union, one the largest fishing companies in the world, joined the GGGI in 2013. This is a sign of the company’s resolve to tackle this problem. It’s also a role model for hundreds more global brands that have responsibilities to do so. The offices serve as a rest stop for Fiona on her epic journey.

Only with the collaboration and cooperation of fishing companies like Thai Union, private enterprises, and governments will we be able make the migration of the Western Pacific leatherbacks safe for future generations.

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