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Giant Ghost Net Full of Marine Life Found off Grand Cayman 

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A live juvenile oceanic whitetip shark caught in the giant ghost net (Photo: Pierre Lesieur)

A huge mass of discarded fishing net was found floating off the shores of Grand Cayman this week, highlighting the scale of the problem caused by 'ghost gear' throughout the world's oceans.

British dive instructor Dominick Martin-Mayes, of Stingray Watersports, Grand Cayman, was one of the first to spot the net. 'At first, we thought it was a log, but as we got closer we could see it was a net with floats, said Martin-Mayes in an interview with the Independent. 'I jumped in the water first and was shocked at what I saw. It took my breath away. The first thing I saw was the juvenile oceanic whitetip'.

'I got my buddy who was with me to grab a knife and jump in. We did what we could to free some of the trapped life, but most of it was already dead.'

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Other predators come to feed on the trapped fish and get entangled in the process (Photo: Pierre Lesieur)

Describing the 'solid net of dead, decomposing fish and sharks,' as 'heartbreaking', Mr Martin-Mayes estimated that it was at least 50ft (15m) in diameter, reaching to a similar depth underwater. He stated that he could not tell exactly which species of sharks had been caught in the net, as some of the carcasesses were already badly decomposed.

'The surface of it was only probably about 50ft in diameter, but just like an iceberg, 90 per cent of the mass is underneath,' said Martin-Mayes buddy, Pierre Lesieur, in an interview with Cayman27. 'There were miles and miles of netting just tangled up and embedded in themselves, below the water, just disappearing into the depths.' 

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The crew attempted to tow the net to land but it proved too heavy for their boat to handle, so they alerted the Grand Cayman Department of Environment who dispatched a plane to try and locate the net and warn other vessels in the area to be on the lookout.

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The condition of the dead animals and barnacle-encrusted net indicates it's been drifting for some time (Photo: Pierre Lesieur)

Martin-Mayes and  Lesieur managed to free several fish and a shark before being forced to abandon their attempt due to strong currents, and the possibility that they might themselves become entangled, or injured by predators coming to feed on the trapped fish.

The amount of fish, the condition of the decayed carcasses, and the barnacles encrusting the net suggest that the ghost gear has already been drifting for several months, collecting a huge amount of marine life along the way. 'The fish come and eat what is there and get caught up in it themselves,' said Mr Marin-Mayes, 'so it just snowballs and becomes this gigantic floating net of death.'

With the strength of the prevailing currents, by now the net could be up to 150 miles away from the area where it was first discovered. The Cayman authrorities have issued an alert asking for any sightings of the net to be reported with a GPS waypoint. Mr Martin-Mayes warns people who might find the net to be caustious. These nets are very dangerous,' hse said, 'and should not be approached in the water swimming or in a boat.'

 

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