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15FXZ: Journey of a Ghost Net

The Tornado Scientist

Tracking Trash readers,

Do you remember what a ghost net is? Here’s the definition from the book’s glossary: lost or discarded fishing nets that continue to drift at sea, threatening marine animals and coral reefs.

Do you also remember Tim Veenstra? He’s the Alaskan pilot who helped launch a debris tagging program so that he could keep an eye on the biggest ghost nets found in the ocean. Tim and his colleagues asked seafarers to carry GPS-equipped tags on board their vessels and to attach these tags to any large debris they came across but were unable to remove from the ocean. Tim would then track movement of the debris and, if necessary, dispatch a ship to pull it out of the sea.

Tim recently sent me the story of one GhostNet tag. 15FXZ (cute name, no?) was attached to a large piece of debris in the Pacific Ocean on April 2, 2008 and has been sending its location to Tim’s computer twice each day ever since. On March 22, 2013, however, 15FXZ abruptly stopped sending location updates. Tim’s not sure what happened to the tag, but it appears its journey is over. “The buoy (and debris if still attached) has been through numerous storms, sun soaked days and adventures we can only imagine,” Tim says. He sent the photo above showing the ocean path over which those five years of adventures took place.

If 15FXZ is heard from again, Tim will let us know. In the meantime, I can’t help but imagine those adventures …

by Loree Burns

About Loree Burns

Loree Burns

Loree Griffin Burns, Ph.D. lives, writes, and watches bees in central Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and three children. You can visit her at She is the author of the award-winning Scientists in the Field titles Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion and The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe. Her next Scientists in the Field book is about beetles and trees.

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