They’re called “ghost pots” — abandoned crab traps that sit at the bottom of the bay and continue to catch and kill crabs and other species — and they’re bad. Ghost pots sit too deep to pull out of the water, but it’s dangerous to let them continue to accumulate. According to a 2008 study, there are already 85,000 of them in Maryland’s piece of the Chesapeake Bay.

Two Anne Arundel County high school seniors have come up with an elegant, if imperfect, solution to the problem. After investigating the possibility of creating traps that float back to the surface after a number of months, Luke Andraka and Dana Lunkenheimer decided instead to design traps that would fall apart. The key is to use zinc rings to hold the trap together. After eight months underwater the rings dissolve and the trap is rendered far less harmful. It’s imperfect only because it still allows garbage to pile up on the bay floor.

Luckily, this is a situation in which the interests of industry and environmentalism are more-or-less aligned. Ghost pots threaten the ecosystem at the same time that they lower crab yields for watermen. So it’s possible that Andraka’s and Lunkenheimer’s solution — or something like it — would be willingly implemented by the crabbers themselves.

To learn more about the self-destructing crab traps, read the article in the Baltimore Sun.