Ghost Fishing UK Back in Action at Hands Deep Reef
Ocean conservation charity Ghost Fishing UK (GFUK) successfully removed a 200m-long lost, abandoned or discarded fishing net from Hand Deeps fishing and diving reef off the coast of Plymouth, UK, after being kept out of action for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The team of ten volunteer scuba divers were responding to reports from the divers of Plymouth Sound Sub Aqua Club, who encountered the net during a club dive on the Hand Deeps reef, strewn across two pinnacles at approximately 20-30m of depth and trapping a large number of marine animals. Club member Christine Ingram, who reported the net to GFUK, said: 'It was quite shocking to see how much damage these nets cause and I felt I had to report it straight away.'
Working from the dive boat Seeker, skippered by James Balouza of In Deep Dive Centre, Plymouth, the GFUK volunteers dived to locate and survey the massive ghost net, before making a plan to remove it. The team brought the net back on board before painstakingly disentangling a total of 155 animals that had become trapped in the net. Most of the animals, which included spider crabs, lobsters, edible crabs and a large pollack, were still alive and successfully returned to the sea.
The recovery of the giant net marked only the second time that GFUK has been able to return to work after the UK-wide Covid-19 lockdown, after recovering 126kg of ghost gear from the wreck of the SS James Eagan Layne in early July.
'We are so pleased to be able to get back out doing such important work, even in times like these,' said Ghost Fishing UK trustee, Christine Grosart. 'This net is huge but on reefs, it is sometimes very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the ghost gear is. Fortunately, we had excellent information from several reports and with good coordinates, we were able to find it within 8 minutes.
'It is extremely rewarding not just to recover such a huge net, but to release 115 animals back into the sea, the majority of which were still alive and kicking,' said Grosart. 'Covid-19 set us back with our new recruits but over the last five days we have been able to bring several of our newly trained divers out on their qualifying ‘live’ dives and continue building our amazing team.'
'Being able to support Ghost Fishing UK with logistics for their diving operation as well as to assist with the removal of the net from Hand Deeps was incredibly rewarding and also of prior importance to maintain the health of the reef,' said Balouza, who spent 2 days at Seeker's helm supporting the GFUK volunteers. 'Hand Deeps is one of the most biodiverse reefs that we regularly dive and as such is a very popular spot for our customers. Ghost nets, such as the one recovered this week pose a threat to a vast array of marine life. Their swift and effective removal significantly decreases the impact to the marine environment and industries that depend on the health of our coast.'
Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear is one of the largest problems faced by the world's oceans, with an estimated 640,000 tonnes lost into the sea globally each year. Ghost Fishing UK encourages divers to report sightings of ghost gear during their dive trips, and fishery workers to report where and when their nets and pots have been lost. The equipment is returned to its owners if it is possible to do so.
GFUK is made up entirely of volunteers and relies on donations from members of the public to continue its important work. For more information on the charity and its work, to find out how to make a report if you spot ghost gear yourself, visit www.ghostfishing.co.uk, and to make a donation visit www.ghostfishing.co.uk/donate.