Deadly ghosts of the sea

11 months, 1 week ago 0
Posted in: Blog

Written by Vardhan Patankar 

A by-product of the fishing industry – lost or abandoned nets, also referred to as ghost nets, are as deadly as their name implies.

Drifting with the highs and lows of the ocean currents, they often become tangled together with ropes, buoys and other debris to form what are known as ghost net conglomerates. These swallow or ensnare everything that comes on its way including marine turtles, dugongs, dolphins and whales.

Amongst marine life, the most affected species is the Olive Ridley turtle. They are ocean-dwelling and spend a considerable amount of time in open water, swimming in search of food, foraging in different habitats, looking for bottom-living organisms such as crabs and lobsters.

During our recent coral reef surveys in the islands, we encountered what appeared to be a discarded net floating in the water. Our first reaction was to go closer to examine the net, and when we saw the flippers of a turtle we jumped into the water to check out if the turtle was alive. The turtle was indeed alive, but struggling for life, as it was surrounded by a net and dead snapper. Schools of juvenile Golden Trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus), Scissortail Sergeant (Abudefduf sexfasciatus), Fusiliers (Caesio varilineata) and Rudderfish (Kyphosus sp.) were swimming nearby.

We cut the derelict net off the turtle and brought it on board to check for injuries. Once out of the water, it was passive but strenuously gulping in air. We checked for signs of external injuries and quickly released the turtle back into the water.

The following pictures show a ghost net, turtle, dead snapper tangled into a mass that could have been wandering in the ocean for months.

The non-profitable charity Olive Ridley Project actively fights ghost gear in the Indian Ocean; their efforts rely heavily on volunteers and every single person who collects discarded netting, removes a ghost net or disentangles an animal is helping their cause. In addition, the project relies on marine biologists, fishermen and sea wanderers to collect data on ghost nets and sea turtle entanglements.

As per their website, they have recovered 600 net conglomerates since 2014 and rescued 80 sea turtles! While you are on a dive trip or travelling between the islands, and if you spot a ghost net, please report it or, if safe to do so, remove it – you will contribute to efforts of Olive Ridley project and save the life of a magnificent ocean dwelling turtle.

This was article was originally published here.

The author leads WCS-India work in marine ecology, with a special focus on coral reef ecology and resilience to changes induced by humans and climate change. He documents patterns, processes and shifts within reef ecosystems.

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