From 8 to 16 June 2021, divers from Healthy Seas and Ghost Diving conducted a large-scale ghost net removal operation from the waters around the Greek island of Ithaca.
The eight-day water clean-up operation around the Greek island of Ithaca is believed to have been the largest ever organised by Healthy Seas and Ghost Diving. According to both marine conservation organisations, the Journey to Ithaca operation was also one of the most ambitious of its kind anywhere in the world.
The Journey to Ithaca project involved the removal of a total of sixty-nine tonnes of contamination by a team of forty-five people. Most of the people involved were working on a volunteer basis, with as many as twenty divers among them.
The island of Ithaca became famous above all for popularising Greek mythology. It was home to King Odysseus, the most cunning of the rulers involved in the Trojan War. In modern times, Ithaca has been affected by massive pollution from a fish farm that closed and was abandoned nine years ago. According to Healthy Seas, it was local diver and environmentalist George Lilas who initiated the whole project. It all started when he shared photos of the site, which was wreaking havoc on the local environment.
The operator who managed the fish farm went bankrupt in 2012 and simply abandoned the cages and other equipment. In September 2020, a powerful storm scattered tonnes of the most varied rubbish. This included plastic pipes, fishing nets, nylon ropes, concrete blocks, plastic buoys and rusted metal. Since then, it has all drifted in coastal waters or lain on the bottom and on the beaches.
The Journey to Ithaca shoreline clean-up campaign took six months to plan. Healthy Seas and Ghost Diving coordinated all the activities in this area. The organisations’ day-to-day activities include ghost net removal and sustainable fishing start-up Enaleia. The operation kicked off on 8 June, World Oceans Day, and ran until as late as 16 June.
During the Journey to Ithaca, fourteen technical divers from around the world worked to remove the submerged remains of the ghost net. In turn, local divers provided support and excavated smaller items. The heaviest metal structures were removed by commercial divers and a hired barge.
Meanwhile, divers and those who cleaned the beaches, sometimes wading up to their knees in balls of polystyrene from the farm’s floats, collectively recovered almost five tonnes of ghost nets. Plus twenty-nine tonnes of metal and thirty-five tonnes of plastic, including one hundred and fifty bags of plastic pellets.
After throwing polystyrene into plastic bags for five days, we realised we needed another solution. We wanted to leave the beach as clean as possible. So we used an industrial hoover, which we upgraded with a mesh bag as a filter – – said Veronika Mikos, director of Healthy Seas
An important aspect is that the entire Journey to Ithaca event, Healthy Seas organised as a public event. They wanted to inform the local community about the project in this way. In turn, 75 children took part in educational activities to raise awareness about the ghost network. Specialists also conducted seabed surveys to record and assess the interaction of the remains with the marine environment.
No doubt residents have been waiting for many years for someone to do something about this environmental disaster. Now when you look at the bay, the difference is colossal. All in all, this view and the reception of the whole action and the words of gratitude we heard from the locals are our great reward – commented an emotional Mikos
The materials that volunteers recovered from the sea, coastline and four beaches on the southwestern part of the island during the Journey to Ithaca will be recycled into new products. The collected ghost nets will be regenerated into Econyl yarn used for clothing and carpets or recycled.
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