GGGI collaboration tackles ghost gear in Orkney

Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) participants, including animal protectors, marine conservationists, divers and researchers spent a week in Scapa Flow to tackle ghost gear.

A unique team came together last week and set sail out of Stromness, Orkney, for a large clean-up mission and to carry out first-of-its-kind research in the area into the effects of ghost gear.

It was the first on the ground the project to be delivered collaboratively by participants of the GGGI, which launched in London this month, comprised of participants across the globe who wish to tackle the problem of ghost fishing gear. World Animal Protection, Healthy Seas and Ghost Fishing formed a team of divers, marine researchers and campaigners who hope to start quantifying the scale of the waste problem in the Scapa Flow and work to reduce it.

During a very busy week at sea, the team retrieved 60 creel pots, 25 whelk pots, two kilometres of rope and 500kg of netting. The pots, as well as being offered back to local fishermen, will be used by the local university for research and the netting sent for recycling by Healthy Seas. A local artist, Matt Cook, collected the rope and will be using it to make door mats. Other items recovered included a deep fat fryer and many batteries.

At 120 square miles, Scapa Flow is one of the world’s largest natural harbours and the sea around Orkney has one of the largest concentrations of shipwrecks anywhere in the world. Over time rubbish has accumulated on and around the wrecks including lobster pots, crab creels, whelk pots, ropes and diver shot lines.

World Animal Protection campaigner, Christina Dixon, said:

We're delighted to have supported this mission as part of our work on the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. It's clear from the cases of animal entanglement we’ve seen that lost fishing gear poses a significant threat not only in the context of ghost fishing, but also due to the welfare of local wildlife. As a result we are keen to work with local fishermen, divers and skippers to help locate and retrieve lost gear and work together to find ways we can reduce its impact on the marine environment.

Diving coordinator Healthy Seas & Founder Ghost Fishing, Pascal van Erp, said:

I am very happy and proud that the network of Ghost Fishing divers has been able to bring together international divers for this project as part of our work with the Healthy Seas initiative. Healthy Seas aims to remove waste, in particular fishing nets, from the seas for the purpose of creating healthier seas and recycling marine litter into textile products. It’s an open initiative which welcomes new partners and creative ideas. We can learn a lot from each other during this trip.

The specific objectives of the week were to:

  • Assess the scale and effects of the problem by estimating how much ghost gear is snagged on wrecks or on the sea bed and locating items for removal;
  • Perform clean-up dives to remove as much ghost gear from shipwrecks and reefs as possible;
  • Identify sustainable and suitable ways to dispose of the removed materials;
  • Map and photograph items that cannot be removed over the week and arrange future removal actions.

The information will form a report to enable replication through future solutions projects and will be shared with the alliance of government, industry, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations that make up the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

Photo: Peter Verhoog / Ghost Fishing