It's strong, waterproof, durable, colorful... let's see...what else? Oh yeah, when it's not trapping and entangling marine life in its "derelict fishing gear" or "ghost nets" form, it's unraveling into billions of tiny thread like strands in the ocean where it can be consumed by sea birds like the Laysan and Black Footed Albatross.
What looks like a little pile of dirt (left) is actually a bolus, or a little pod of regurgitated indigestibles thrown up by an albatross chick.
The image above shows the dissection of a bolus that has a great deal of the plastic thread material mixed in
That so much of this thread can be found washed up on beaches and in the guts of sea creatures, indicates that there is very likely a whole lot of it out there. I recently attended a lecture (part of a series put on by the Environmental Forum of Marin) and heard the speaker (Stiv Wilson formerly of 5Gyres, now with the Story of Stuff) describe touching these massive bundles of plastic rope out floating in the ocean, and watching hundreds of threads break off every time you handled it because of the amount of photodegradation that had occurred as these synthetic fibers endured the constant exposure to salt water, wave action, and sunlight.
I get that plastic rope lasts longer. I get that it's stronger. And I can see how one could have the perspective that it is better suited to the marine environment because it is resistant to the water, unlike their natural fiber counterparts sisal, manila, hemp, and jute, which are all derived from fibers and husks of plant materials. But shift the "better suited to the marine environment" perspective to the image above and, well... it doesn't seem very well suited to sun and salt water after all.
All rope and fishing gear is potentially dangerous, and can accidentally entrap, strangle, and choke marine life when it winds up overboard. Preventing this gear from being left out there in the first place is the most obvious first step. But if we're going to continue to use rope in the ocean, and of course we are, seems to me it should be the kind that will break into biodegradable pieces sooner than later, not the kind that shreds into countless non-biodegradable brittle threads that will last in the ocean longer than we're able to fathom.