Ghost nets, or abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, include fishing nets, lines and traps that fishermen leave in the ocean. They become entangled in rocks and reefs, ultimately killing fish and other marine life and suffocating coral.
“In 2009, the United Nations estimated that 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear were littering the world’s oceans,” said Marcelo Guimaraes, a marine biologist working for Awei Pila resort, which hosted the expedition.
“Most of the nets are made of nylon and will not biodegrade for the next 600 years. These are the silent killers of our ocean marine life and we must do something about it,” he added.
From May 8-11, the team of nine divers and five surface support crew – from as far away as Brazil, Sweden, Lithuania and Romania – set out from Awei Pila on the island of Kyun Pila in the heart of the archipelago, which is home to some 800 islands and atolls.
Within four days, the divers recovered, using scissors, some 300 kilograms of ghost nets from the surrounding reefs at depths of up to 25 metres.
The team was led by Anuar Abdullah, the founder of Ocean Quest Global, a Southeast Asia-based organisation dedicated to the protection and rehabilitation of coral reefs.
“The importance of healthy coral reefs to their surrounding communities cannot be understated,” the group says in its mission statement. “They not only provide them with food and revenue through fisheries and tourism, but also stave off coastal erosion, thereby safeguarding land property from damage and reducing the risk of population displacement. Coral reefs are important and unique ecosystems that are self-sustaining and provide vital support for marine life.”
The Awei Pila initiative follows closely on the heels of a similar ghost net clearance campaign in the archipelago by the Myanmar Ocean Project.
Guimaraes said plans are in place for the two teams to cooperate in a joint effort to clear more fishing gear from the sea in September or October.
Awei Pila is one of a handful of resorts and hotels in the archipelago, which opened to tourism only recently.