Marine scientist Christina Chiara Solbach is the inspirational founder of Fishing4Ghosts, an environmentally conscious company based in Aljezur. This business creates a circular economy from discarded ‘ghost’ fishing gear.
By Helen Daniel
“We hand make high-quality products from fishing debris, either collected at beach clean-ups or brought to our collection points by fishermen. A percentage of the profits go to the fishermen, thus forming the circle,” Christina explains. “This way, the fishing gear gets new life, and the fishermen are made aware of the littering problem. They also have an incentive to participate.”
Ghost gear refers to fishing gear that has been abandoned or lost and is the deadliest form of marine litter. Every year more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles and millions of fish get caught unnecessarily in deserted nets and traps. Ghost gear, made of durable material, can take up to 600 years to break down.
Born in Cologne, Germany, Christina went on family holidays to the North Sea in Belgium, which initiated her lifelong love of the ocean. “When I was nine, we moved to the countryside where I owned a horse that I adored. We also kept goats and dogs that I loved too, so my passion for animals and the natural world strengthened,” she explains.
In 2005, Christina became the European Ambassador for Polar Bears International. This Canadian organisation studies polar bears as an indicator of climate change. In between studying, Christina travelled to many countries. She was always involved in environmental projects, including working for a sea turtle conservation project in Sri Lanka and a marine plastic litter research group in the Açores. After that, she became an intern in 2015 at Ceres, the Natural Science Centre in Arrifana. She explains, “I immediately loved the area and began organising and participating in countless coastal clean-ups. I soon realised that fishing gear made up 70-80% of the litter we were picking up.”
Progressing with her research, Christina studied marine science in Faro and, in 2019, she travelled to an international conference on marine debris in San Diego. She noticed here that the emphasis was on quantifying plastic in the oceans but that there was little focus on solving this threatening problem. “Hands-on countermeasures are often missing in the scientific environment,” she remarks. Returning to Aljezur and driven by the urge to find solutions, the idea for Fishing4Ghosts began.
“With the ghost gear, we produce bracelets, keychains and sunglasses straps, which we sell in local shops and through our website. We can also customise items with company logos, providing a way for businesses to show concern for ocean litter and upgrade their brand,” Christina points out. “5% of profits go to fishermen and 5% to Global Ghost Gear Initiative, a non-governmental organisation that’s raising awareness of the problem worldwide.”
In addition to organising beach clean-ups and promoting Fishing4Ghosts, Christina has enthusiastic ambitions for the future. Dynamic and enterprising, she plans to employ young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to assemble her merchandise. “I would also love to encourage Portuguese artisans to weave the ghost material for forthcoming products. I intend to run workshops for fishermen and additionally bring awareness of the plastic problem to children in schools.” Fishing4Ghosts supports the Mar Sem Lixo project, run by the Portuguese harbour authority Docapesca, and is part of Culatra 2030, a sustainability project on the island of Culatra near Faro.
In the long-term, Christina is keen to see Portugal implementing interceptors at estuaries and harbours to catch the rubbish before it enters the ocean. Dutchman Boyan Slat invented a U-shaped barrier that floats in the sea, collecting plastic using the power of ocean currents. “This is a fantastic invention,” declares Christina. “The focus, though, should be on education and the enforcement of impactful regulations to prevent people from littering in the first place. The problem needs to be tackled from different levels, starting locally, and progressing globally!”
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