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Marine Life & Conservation

Divers recover 1500kg of lost fishing gear from Shetland waters



Award winning charity Ghost Fishing UK are on their way home after a groundbreaking week, helping fishermen clean up lost fishing gear around Shetland.

They arrived and began diving on 6th August for one week aboard the MV Valhalla and in 6 days recovered 1500kg of lost fishing gear. It included a trawl net from the wreck of the Fraoch Ban, 41 creel pots and some keeper pots; all were returned to fishermen.

12 volunteer divers travelled to Shetland with the help of Northlink Ferries sponsoring their travel, helping out with a trip that totalled £18,000 to run.

Northlink said “We are delighted to be able to support such a worthwhile project…we hope (Ghost Fishing UK) have a good journey home. Well done to all involved. It looks like they have had a very successful time in Shetland clearing ghost gear. We are proud sponsors.

The charity selects and trains divers themselves, all on a volunteer basis and the divers were grateful to receive support from Reel Diving and Halcyon Dive Systems who provided extra reinforcements such as extra bright pink lift bags, surface marker buoys, reels and regulators.

Trip organiser and charity trustee Christine Grosart explained “We were invited to Shetland by a group called Fishing Forward, who were concerned about the abundance of abandoned gill nets around Scottish waters which were being pulled in by their own trawlers. These nets are not used by local fishermen, yet they are causing havoc with wildlife and there are huge concerns about pollution, net dumping and littering from foreign gill netters.

The charity is committed to working with the fishing community to try and solve the issues of ghost fishing, a phenomenon where lost or abandoned fishing gear continues to do its job, catching and killing marine life until it is removed from the sea. The charity has been heavily dependent on reports from fishermen to locate and remove lost fishing gear, particularly strings of creels.

Christine went on to explain “The gill nets tend to be in very deep water, and as they are often dumped, we have no way of knowing where they are. We decided to pick low hanging fruit this week and try and get some lost creels back to the local fishermen, whilst starting a discussion on how we can work together to solve bigger problems of gill nets. We could not have done this without the cooperation of the Shetland fishing community. Hazel, master of MV Valhalla has been working tirelessly to get the word out to fishermen that we were coming up to help. We are eternally grateful to her and the fishermen who reported their lost pots – they were delighted to get them back again.

The divers headed 2 hours north to find a string of lost pots and returned them to their owner. Later in the week, another good report with clear marks led the team to recover another 20 pots, all of which were good enough to be taken back into operation by their owner and other fishermen who were happy to fix them up.

Keen to learn more about the fishing practices in the area, Arlene Robertson from Fishing Forward introduced the divers to John-Arthur, skipper of Kiama and he welcomed two of the team out on his creel boat for the day.

We had the best day ever” Christine says “Matt and I  learned so much from John-Arthur. He didn’t hold back telling us about the struggles of smaller local boats and we felt compelled at the end of the day to do all we could to help. He was kind enough to let us have a go at emptying and stacking creels, although I don’t think he’ll be offering us a job any time soon! What these guys do is incredible!

On Thursday, the charity hosted an event at the Shetland Museum, with food provided by Hay’s Dock, followed by speakers from Ghost Fishing UK with an update on the Shetland project, then a talk from Arlene Robertson (Fishing Forward) about concerns surrounding industrial gill netting and pollution. The evening rounded up with Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary and there was barely a dry eye in the house, followed by a question and answer session for the audience.

Attendee Jeanette said: “What a splendid, informative evening… Well done for organising. Great to hear about the work Ghost Fishing UK do….and (Fishing Forward) did a great job speaking up about the impossible situation the fishermen here and in the UK are finding themselves in. Hats off to you for all you are doing.”

Spokesperson for Fishing Forward, Alastair Inkster said “We had a very enjoyable presentation last night in the Lerwick museum from the Ghost Fishing UK team of divers in Shetland, at present recovering lost netting and creels.

The work this team is doing in cleaning up our marine environment is invaluable and we at Fishing Forward UK fully support their work and wish them every success in future.”

On Wednesday, when weather prevented diving from the boat, half the divers visited Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary to meet the latest intake, three seal pups in need of human care prior to release.

Pete and Jan who have been running the sanctuary for 36 years said “It was extremely gratifying to have the team from Ghost Fishing UK arriving in Shetland to work on clearing old fishing nets, ropes and creels from the seabed around the islands. They are a passionate bunch of highly skilled people doing great work for our marine environment, which is in such desperate need of help from humankind. What made their visit even more inspiring was the close working relationship they have developed with Shetland’s fishing crews who are feeling squeezed by a pincer movement of government regulation on one side and unregulated competition on the other.

To witness conservationists working hand in hand with the fishing community to take on the responsibility of cleaning up our oceans is exactly the sort of example the world needs right now.

The others set about responding to a report from a local lady in Gunnister Voe, recovering a mess of ropes and lost pots that had been long abandoned, from the shore.

The charity enlisted volunteers from the public to help with the washing down operation and were stunned to find that some people had travelled to Shetland specifically to help the charity.

I couldn’t believe it” Christine said “They just turned up and set about pressure washing, sorting and bagging ropes, net and stacking pots. We clean the ropes because they are made of polypropylene and this can be recycled by our partner, Ocean Plastic Pots. All we needed was some help getting them back to the mainland.”

Two of those volunteers, Maggie and Simon Wilcox said “Beach cleaning at our home in Overstrand, Norfolk during Covid kept us active and focussed. We now pick beach rubbish wherever we go, home or away. When I read on social media that Ghost Fishing UK was heading to Shetland at the same time as us, we jumped at the opportunity to help out at the quayside and volunteer with these fabulous folks who give up their time to rid our coastal waters of ghost gear.”

The charity requested assistance from a local haulier and the very same day, Bryan Hepburn from DFDS Haulage Shetland responded.

As soon as I heard about Ghost Fishing UK and spoke to Christine I knew this was something we’d be keen to support.” Bryan explains “ Cleaning debris from the sea, helping inshore fishermen recover lost gear and working in sympathy with local communities all chime with our core values and lived experience as members of a remote fishing community.  With everything we do at DFDS supporting the cold chain transport of seafood across the UK we do it responsibly and sensibly.  The team at Ghost Fishing UK are similar, the work they have done and the expertise they’ve shown is impressive.”

DFDS will assist the charity in shipping the sorted and cleaned ropes to Ocean Plastic Pots for recycling and the remaining ropes to Somerset for collection by artists, jewellery makers and similar. At the end of the week, the charity was delighted that the quayside was empty.

Lerwick port authority also supported the project, by offering an ideal berth for free to the team. Stuart Wadley, the Port Authority’s HSEQ Manager, said: “Ghost Fishing is to be congratulated on its efforts which are in line with our own commitment to protect the environment in all our operations and to work with third parties wherever appropriate. Ghost nets are often from foreign vessels and full of unintended catch.”

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK, associate professor of citizen science, Richard Walker, PhD, was keen that the project had a scientific element too. He said, “Successful outcomes in conservation efforts require a huge cooperation between volunteers, industrial partners and the scientific community.

The citizen science performed by Ghost Fishing UK divers for the Scottish Entanglement Alliance, augmented by professional scientific input from University Highlands and Islands, mean that the data recorded will form the foundations of ongoing conservation work in Shetland and around the United Kingdom.”

Ghost Fishing UK hope to return to Shetland to continue their work and are appealing for Fishermen to report and gear losses to their dedicated reporting system here:

You can follow the project on all social media platforms and visiting

Marine Life & Conservation

Project SIARC through to the finals of The National Lottery Awards



Project SIARC

Project SIARC has been nominated alongside 16 other projects from across the UK to be named National Lottery Project of the Year.

The marine environment in Wales is teeming with life; beneath the often-murky waters are little understood species of shark, skate and ray (elasmobranchs) of conservation importance.
Project SIARC is catalysing links between fishers, researchers, communities and government to collaborate and safeguard elasmobranchs and support a green recovery in Wales.

“We are so grateful for this nomination – it’s thanks to all of our wonderful communities, partners and volunteers working with us to help safeguard and celebrate sharks, skates and rays in Wales”, commented Project SIARC Technical Specialist and regular Scubaverse contributor Jake Davies.

You can support Project SIARC by voting for them online here and by commenting the hashtag #NLASIARC on the pinned post over on National Lottery Good Causes page.

For more information about Project SIARC, visit

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Marine Life & Conservation

Silent Reef Keepers: The Fight to Save the Caribbean Reef Shark



Caribbean Reef Shark

The Kingdom of the Netherlands will ask for increased protection for the Caribbean reef shark during next month’s Conference of Parties for the Cartagena Convention (COPs) on Aruba.  Caribbean reef sharks play a critical role in maintaining a healthy reef ecosystem and building resilience within the oceans. This increased protection is critical for ensuring a sustainable future for this iconic species.

The Caribbean Sea is renowned for its crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and a dazzling array of marine life. Among the charismatic inhabitants of this underwater paradise is the Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezii), a species that plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of coral reef ecosystems. In the Dutch Caribbean, these apex predators face mounting threats, but there is hope on the horizon. At the upcoming Conference of Parties for the Cartagena Convention (COPs), the Kingdom of the Netherlands will seek increased protection for these magnificent creatures by listing this species on Annex III of the SPAW Protocol.  Annex III includes plant and animal species which require additional protection to ensure this species is able to adequately recover their populations in the Wider Caribbean Region.


Caribbean reef sharks thrive in warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean region, with a distribution range that stretches from Florida to Brazil. This species is one of the most encountered reef shark species throughout the whole Caribbean Sea.  Growing up to 3m (9.8ft) in length, this shark is one of the largest apex predators in the reef ecosystem and is at the top of the marine food web, having only a few natural predators. 

In addition to being of great economic value, as shark diving is a major draw for divers from around the world, this species is also critical for maintaining balance within the reef ecosystem. Their presence helps regulate the population of smaller prey species, which in turn, prevents overgrazing on seagrass beds and coral reefs and eliminates sick or weak fish from the population. This balance is essential for maintaining the health and diversity of the entire coral reef.


Despite their ecological and economic significance, Caribbean reef sharks in the Caribbean face numerous threats that have led to a population reduction estimated to be between 50–79% over the past 29 years. In the (Dutch) Caribbean this is mainly caused by:

Habitat Degradation: The degradation of coral reefs and seagrass beds due to climate change, pollution, and coastal development has a direct impact on the availability of prey for these sharks. Loss of habitat reduces their ability to find food and shelter.

Overfishing: Overfishing poses one of the most immediate threats to Caribbean reef sharks. They are often caught incidentally in commercial fisheries, where fishermen are targeting other species, or intentionally, where they are sought after for their fins, used in shark fin soup.

A Call for Increased Protection

There are different organizations and individuals working to protect sharks and their habitats in the Dutch Caribbean. A significant milestone was the establishment of protected areas such as the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary between Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius.  Another milestone was in 2019 when the Dutch government adopted an International Shark Strategy. The strategy sets out which protective and management actions for sharks and rays are to be taken by the government in all seas and oceans where the Netherlands has influence (including the Dutch Caribbean).  Additional efforts are still needed to create more marine protected areas, enhance enforcement, reduce pollution in the ocean, and promote sustainable fishing practices.  These species know no (political) boundaries and their protection requires broadscale conservation efforts within the Dutch Caribbean and beyond.


The Caribbean reef shark is a species of paramount importance to the (Dutch) Caribbean’s coral reefs. With the extra protection being requested during the next COPS meeting in Aruba, there is hope that this species will have a healthy future. By recognizing their ecological significance and the challenges they face, we can work together to ensure a brighter future for the Caribbean Reef Shark in the Dutch Caribbean and beyond.



The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) supports science communication and outreach in the Dutch Caribbean region by making nature-related scientific information more widely available through amongst others the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database, DCNA’s news platform BioNews and the press. This article contains the results from several scientific studies but the studies themselves are not DCNA studies. No rights can be derived from the content. DCNA is not liable for the content and the in(direct) impacts resulting from publishing this article.    


Photo + photo credit: Jim Abernethy-all rights reserved

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