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Ghost Nets: The Silent and Deadly Threat to Our Oceans

Published: November 15, 2023 - 09:30
Updated: November 15, 2023 - 10:55
Ghost Nets: The Silent and Deadly Threat to Our Oceans

Like many islands with extensive shorelines, Malta and its sister island Gozo face significant ecological challenges related to plastic waste and ghost nets.

These small yet vibrant islands in the Mediterranean Sea are renowned for their beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters, which, unfortunately, are not immune to the global issue of marine pollution. Plastic debris, ranging from single-use items to larger waste, washes up on their shores, marring the natural beauty and posing a threat to the diverse marine life. Ghost nets, abandoned or lost fishing nets, are of particular concern. They silently drift along the islands’ bays and shorelines, trapping unsuspecting marine creatures and contributing to the degradation of their unique underwater habitats. The issue is not just an aesthetic one; it’s a ticking environmental time bomb that threatens the biodiversity and the very fabric of life on these islands.

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Ghost nets
Retrieving Ghost nets photo: Arkadiusz Srebnik

The Importance of Taking Care of Our Seas and Oceans

The seas and oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, making them vital to life on our planet. They are home to an astonishing variety of wildlife, regulate our climate, and provide food and livelihoods for billions of people worldwide.

It’s precisely due to these environmental threats that organizations like Żibel in Malta have taken decisive action. In collaboration with Healthy Seas and Ghostdiving.org , Żibel has organized a weekly clean-up initiative aimed at purging Maltese bays of plastic waste and significantly reducing the presence of ghost nets in the surrounding sea. This initiative attracted a diverse group of volunteers from across Europe who, along with local dive centers and residents, came together in Malta to make a concerted effort to protect and preserve the local environment.

Each day saw a dedicated team of divers plunging into the sea, their mission to retrieve as many ghost nets as possible. Aided by the tireless efforts of local volunteers from Żibel, they succeeded in extracting an enormous volume of plastic waste and ghost nets from the waters. Some of these ghost nets were colossal, spanning over 100 meters in length and lurking at depths of 40 meters.

It’s not always about numbers but just to have a ruff image of how much of waste was taken out of the water,  just one dive:

    1. Fishing & Ropes 348,64 KG
    2. Plastic 112,66 KG
    3. Glass 8,04 KG
    4. Metal 91,16 KG
    5. Mixed trash 185 KG

 

This gives us in total 755,54 Kg of waste, a day earlier accordingly in total of 845,7 KG 

Ghost nets malta zibel
Arkadiusz Srebnik Żibel Malta, Ellie Hudson valunteer Spain, in the backround valunteer Anastasia Shmuck Austria

What Are Ghost Nets?

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been abandoned, lost, or discarded at sea. They can be any size, from small fishnets to enormous trawl nets, and are made from durable and often non-degradable materials like plastic.

ghost nets malta zibel divers24
Joanna Wyrebek volunteer UK, ghost net retrieval.

The multi-aspect Threat of Ghost Nets

Ghost nets are a multi-threat to our oceans. They continue to ‘fish’ long after they’ve been lost or discarded, ensnaring marine creatures that come into contact with them. This phenomenon, known as ‘ghost fishing’, can lead to the death of numerous marine species, including sharks, rays, and birds.

In addition to posing a threat to marine life, ghost nets also contribute to the growing problem of microplastics in our oceans. As these nets break down over time, they add to the volume of tiny plastic particles in the water, which are easily ingested by marine animals and can even make their way up the food chain to humans.

Furthermore, ghost nets can cause significant damage to coral reefs. They can break, shade, and abrade coral, preventing them from healthy growth. Coral reefs play an essential role in maintaining marine biodiversity, so their damage can have far-reaching impacts on ocean ecosystems.

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been abandoned, lost, or discarded at sea. They can be any size, from small fishnets to enormous trawl nets, and are made from durable and often non-degradable materials like plastic.

One day at sea:

    1. 3 ghost nets
    2. 17 cages (Ghost Cages are abandoned or lost cages that trap fish, octopuses, crabs
    3. 1 anchor and assorted ropes

 

Organizations like Żibel in Malta, Healthy Seas, and ghostdiving.org  play a crucial role in combating marine pollution. Their dedicated efforts in cleaning up our oceans, particularly in the removal of plastic waste and ghost nets, are integral to the preservation of marine life and overall environmental health. Supporting them, either through donations or volunteering, is essential in sustaining their invaluable work and making a tangible difference in the fight against ocean pollution.

The aspiration is to one day plunge into the seas and find only what nature intended to be there. Until that day arrives, each of us can make a significant impact. Whenever you go diving, consider taking a trash bag along and help clean up your local dive site.

The journey to a cleaner ocean starts with individual actions like these.

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About author

Marcin Pawełczyk
Marcin’s journey with diving has been an adventure. Starting as a recreational diver, he soon found himself drawn to the fascinating stories and mysteries of Baltic wrecks. After gaining experience, Marcin decided to go beyond just leisurely exploration and took his training up a notch by completing the TMX course, allowing him to explore even deeper and uncover the secrets of inaccessible places. His next challenge has been cave diving, where he is honing his skills to become a certified diver. Not content to simply take in the breathtaking beauty of underwater life, Marcin has also embraced underwater photography since 2018, capturing stunning shots that bring these worlds alive for those who are unable to experience them first-hand. Marcin’s passion for the underwater has taken him far and is sure to continue doing so as he dives into new depths and captures breathtaking images.
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