In a way the term Ghost Fishing almost has a sci-fi/adventure feel to it and does little to portray the great horror and devastation it actually inflicts on the marine environment around the world. The first I ever new about Ghost Fishing was back in the 1980’s when I joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to make a film for UK television about the Drift Net fisheries in the North Pacific for Tuna and salmon. At that time, the combined Japanese and Taiwanese fishing fleets were laying approximately 20,000 miles of drift net at any one time. Each net being up to 30 miles long and 100 feet deep, drifting on the ocean currents catching everything that came in their path.
As well as the targeted catch of Tuna, the bi-catch was of unimaginable quantities. Everything perished – Whales, Dolphins, Turtles, Seals, Sea Birds, Sharks and many species of pelagic fish.
Many of these nets were lost at sea and continue to ‘fish’ until the shear weight of the catch would drag them to the sea bed. But this was not the end of the nets’ fishing life. On the sea bottom the nets continue to entangle marine life until one day the ‘catch’ would decompose enough to allow the nets to once again rise to the surface and begin the whole process over again.
Those nets are still out there. It is not just mono-filament nets that cause ‘Ghost Fishing’ problems. Any lost or discarded fishing tackle will take its toll. The problem continues.
There is a Dutch group who are trying to tackle the problem. The article below is written by Pascal van Erp, one of the directors of www.ghostfishing.org
Ghost Fishing is what fishing gear does when it has been lost, dumped or abandoned. Imagine a fishing net that gets snagged on a reef or a wreck and gets detached from the fishing vessel. Nets, long lines, fish traps or any man made contraptions designed to catch fish or marine organisms are considered capable of ghost fishing when unattended, and without anyone profiting from the catches, they are affecting already depleted commercial fish stocks. Caught fish die and in turn attract scavengers which will get caught in that same net, thus creating a vicious circle.
Ghost nets are among the greatest killers in our oceans, and not only because of their numbers. Literally hundreds of kilometers of nets get lost every year and due to the nature of the materials used to produce these nets, they can and will keep fishing for multiple decades, possibly even for several centuries.
When caught on a reef, nets do not only catch fish, turtles, crustaceans, birds or marine mammals, they also destroy hard and soft corals, wiping out complete ecosystems while swaying in the current. If caught on wrecks nets can suffocate a wreck and thereby render hiding places for marine life useless, or even trap them inside.
Divers are all too familiar with this phenomenon, especially in well fished areas. The founders of Ghost Fishing were confronted with ghost nets while diving the many wrecks in the Dutch North Sea. In 2009 they joined a local team of divers who started to clean those wrecks. After some years of local efforts it was time to broaden the horizon and get in touch with like-minded groups all over the world. And so the Ghost Fishing foundation was born. As of March 2013, Ghost Fishing is collaborating with 14 teams worldwide to work on existing projects, set-up new ones and document these through visual media, educating divers, informing a wide audience and raising social awareness. The Foundation exchanges solutions and best practices and maintains a steady stream of information through social media, and a website that offers extensive information and possibilities for interaction.
The Ghost Fishing Foundation was started as a non-profit organization in November 2012 and has already presented itself at the Hylkesukelus 2013, a wreck diving seminar in Helsinki, Finland and Duikvaker 2013 in the Netherlands where the message was well received and many valuable contacts were made. The next event will be Baltictech Conference 2013 in Poland where the most recent material of our work will be shown.
In 2013 we hope to participate in clean-up work in Krnica, Croatia, Portofino, Italy and if funding permits more plans will be set-up and executed.
As marine debris is rapidly becoming a greater problem, it is imperative to take real action as soon as possible. Ghost Fishing intends to collect funds to finance clean-ups, to sponsor gear, to train divers and to raise public awareness.
If you would like to know more or start your own project visit http://www.ghostfishing.org/
The life of a Great White Shark
The great white shark, known scientifically as Carcharodon carcharias, embodies the apex predator of the ocean. This majestic creature’s life is a testament to survival, adaptability, and the intricate balance of the marine ecosystem.
Born in the waters off coastal regions, a great white shark begins its life as a pup within the safety of nurseries, typically found in warm, shallow waters. The pups, measuring around 5 feet in length at birth, are immediately equipped with an innate instinct for survival.
As they grow, great whites embark on a journey, venturing into deeper and cooler waters, often covering vast distances across the ocean. These apex predators are perfectly adapted hunters, relying on their impressive senses to detect prey. Their acute sense of smell, aided by specialized sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini, helps detect the faintest traces of blood in the water from several miles away.
Feeding primarily on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals, great whites are known for their powerful jaws lined with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Their hunting techniques often involve stealth, utilizing their streamlined bodies to approach prey from below and striking with incredible speed and force.
Despite their fearsome reputation, great whites play a crucial role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. As top predators, they help regulate the population of prey species, preventing overpopulation that could disrupt the balance of the food chain.
Reproduction among great white sharks is a slow and careful process. Females reach sexual maturity between 12 and 18 years of age, while males mature earlier, around 9 to 10 years old. Mating occurs through complex courtship rituals, with females giving birth to a small number of live pups after a gestation period of about 12 to 18 months.
However, the life of a great white shark is not without challenges. Human activities, including overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction, pose significant threats to their population. Additionally, despite their formidable presence, great whites are vulnerable and face dangers from entanglement in fishing gear and accidental bycatch.
Despite these challenges, great white sharks continue to inspire awe and fascination among scientists and nature enthusiasts. Their presence in the ocean serves as a reminder of the delicate balance and interconnectedness of marine life, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures for future generations to admire and study.
Want to learn more about sharks? Visit The Shark Trust website: www.sharktrust.org
Book Review: Sea Mammals
This is a book packed with information about some of the most iconic and charismatic marine species. I have a particular soft spot for the pinnipeds, seals and sea lions, due to some incredible diving encounters over the years. So these were the pages I first turned to.
Once picked up this book is hard to put down. Polar Bears, Narwhal, Sea Otters, manatees, whales and dolphins adorn the pages with beautiful photographs and illustrations. Each turn of the page lures you in to discover more about a species you love, one you want to learn more about, some you have never heard of and even includes the details of fascinating animals that are sadly now extinct.
I think what I love most about this book is how it is organised. Rather than simply lump the animals into taxonomic groupings, they are put into chapters that tell you a story about them. Whether it is the story of their evolution, how they were discovered, their biology, behaviour or need for conservation. Once you have decided on an animal to delve deeper into, each species has its own story, as well as key information about size, diet, distribution, habitat and conservation status.
There is plenty to enjoy in this delightful book. Plenty to learn too. As the cold dark nights draw in, I can see myself delving into this book time and time again. This is a perfect gift for anyone that loves the ocean and its inhabitants. Or just treat yourself.
What the publisher says:
From the gregarious sea otter and playful dolphins to the sociable narwhal and iconic polar bear, sea mammals are a large, diverse, and increasingly precious group. In this book, Annalisa Berta, a leading expert on sea mammals and their evolution, presents an engaging and richly illustrated introduction to past and present species of these remarkable creatures, from the blue whale and the northern fur seal to the extinct giant sperm whale, aquatic sloth, and walking sea cow.
The book features more than 50 individual species profiles, themed chapters, stunning photographs, and specially commissioned paleo-illustrations of extinct species. It presents detailed accounts of these mammals’ evolutionary path, anatomy, behavior, habitats, and conservation. And because these are key species that complete many food chains and have the widest influence of all sea life, the book also offers insights into a broad variety of marine worlds today and in the future.
About the Author:
Annalisa Berta is professor emerita of biology at San Diego State University. A specialist in the anatomy and evolutionary biology of marine mammals, especially baleen whales, she formally described a skeleton of the early pinniped Enaliarctos. She is the author of Return to the Sea: The Life and Evolutionary Times of Marine Mammals and the editor of the award-winning Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises: A Natural History and Species Guide.
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Published: 26th September, 2023
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