Meet Hong Kong’s ‘ghost net hunter’ who is saving the city’s sea life

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Ghost nets, or ghost gear, are deserted or misplaced fishing tools. They float via the ocean, trapping and killing wildlife, snagging on boats, and even threatening divers.

One native scuba diver noticed the issue and determined to take issues into his personal arms.

Harry Chan, a self-proclaimed “ghost internet hunter,” has spent the final decade hauling deserted fishing nets out of the ocean. The 68-year-old retired businessman says he’s on a mission to scrub up Hong Kong’s surrounding waters and shoreline.

“If we’re not going to handle the surroundings and the ocean, we aren’t going to get one other one,” says Chan.

What’s ghost gear?

Ghost gear can find yourself within the ocean accidentally, reminiscent of being swept away throughout storms or tearing on rocks, or deliberately discarded, typically to cowl up proof of illegal fishing — and it is not only a downside in Hong Kong. Based on the UN’s Meals and Agriculture Group (FAO), 640,000 metric tons of ghost gear goes into the world’s waters yearly — the identical weight as greater than 50,000 double-decker buses — though the Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit advocacy group, says it is a conservative estimate.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, abandoned and discarded fishing gear makes up 10% of the ocean's plastic pollution.
In a 2018 study of the Nice Pacific Rubbish Patch — a 1.6 million sq. kilometer assortment of trash that’s greater than double the size of Texas positioned within the Pacific Ocean — it was discovered that greater than half of the entire plastic mass was from nets, ropes and features.

It is a big downside for marine life in addition to folks, says Laurence McCook, oceans director for WWF Hong Kong.

Scientists are fighting to protect a shark and turtle 'superhighway'
“It is known as ghost gear as a result of it goes on residing and creating issues lengthy after it is really helpful,” says McCook. It’s estimated that 136,000 dolphins, seals, turtles, and even whales are killed yearly by ghost gear, in addition to countless fish and different small marine life.
Ghost gear can cut back fish shares in some areas by as much as 30%, impacting meals provides and fishing business income, in addition to fish inventory restoration and conservation tasks.

Looking for ghost nets

As soon as Chan locates a internet, eradicating it could actually take anyplace from three to eight hours, and is harmful and grueling work. However Chan, who has been diving since 1987 with over 3,000 dives to this point, is obsessively passionate — and his brushes with dying in pursuit of his objective haven’t deterred him.

“A few instances, I nearly bought killed, being tangled,” he says. “Fortunately, I used to be in a position to be freed by my buddies.”

Through the years, Chan has constructed a small group of rotating volunteers who assist him on his mission to scrub up Hong Kong’s waters. Kitted out in scuba diving gear, the group will exit on a ship searching for stray ghost nets.

Ghost gear also impacts food supplies, reducing fish stocks by up to 30%.

After they discover one — which might be tough with Hong Kong’s poor water visibility — they use a knife or scissors to free marine life trapped in it or untangle it from rocks, coral or the seabed the place it might be caught.

Relying on the dimensions and weight of the web and the way deep it’s, a small floating machine may help carry the web to the floor. Sometimes, Chan goes on these dives twice a month, in addition to organizing seaside and shoreline cleanups.

Through the years, Chan estimates he has collected greater than 80 metric tons of ghost gear by hand together with his volunteer group, and says he is decided to proceed searching this “silent killer.”

“Being a diver, there’s a lot we will do to guard and save the ocean,” he says.

‘Ghost Gear Detective’

Whereas “native heroes” like Chan are doing nice work amassing ghost nets, the potential risks to even probably the most skilled divers can’t be overstated, says McCook of WWF Hong Kong.

“A internet is designed to catch issues underwater, and it is superb at doing that,” he says. “It is remarkably straightforward to get tangled, and on the finish of the day, we’re underwater — we have now a restricted air provide.”

That is why WWF Hong Kong has developed a “Ghost Gear Detective” program.

The Ghost Gear Detective program asks newbie divers and water sport fans to assist establish the areas of ghost nets utilizing its GPS-enabled machine.

The citizen scientist initiative invitations leisure scuba divers and boaters to file the placement of ghost gear on a water-resistant slate utilizing a transportable, floating GPS machine to establish the coordinates. This data is reported through an app as soon as they’re again on dry land.

Then, the Hong Kong authorities’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department makes use of this knowledge to gather the nets safely with a group of professional divers.

Because the program’s launch in 2019, WWF Hong Kong says 244 items of ghost gear have been recognized, primarily based on 225 experiences — and practically 600 kilos of apparatus have been eliminated.

“The worth of amassing the information will not be solely about eradicating it, however that database then places the federal government and ourselves ready to grasp the magnitude and nature of the issue — which is important to determining options,” says McCook.

Tagging and monitoring

Whereas cleansing up this ghost gear is important, stopping fishing gear from ending up within the ocean within the first place is essential.

Creating incentives for fisheries and fishermen to maintain their nets nicely maintained and correctly recycle them might assist “forestall deliberate and unintentional lack of nets,” says McCook.

Ghost gear not only ensnares dolphins and fish swimming through the ocean, but also catches on corals and rocks on the seabed, destroying habitats.

Ghost nets are additionally typically “strongly related to unlawful fishing,” he provides, so governments have to make sure that marine police and conservation our bodies have “the assets and the means to have the ability to actually implement the laws actively and responsibly.”

Monitoring expertise on fishing gear might additionally assist. Electronic tagging, reminiscent of low-cost Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags or coded wire tags might be used to assist marine police scan tools to make sure it comes from authorized fisheries.

Chan hopes improved authorities insurance policies will take away the “root trigger” for future generations. And although the dimensions of the issue can generally be daunting, he says so long as there are ghost nets within the ocean, he’ll preserve diving.

“I am in my 60s, I’ve bought on a regular basis I wish to do no matter I wish to do — and being a diver, I feel it is time for me to actually contribute again to the group,” says Chan. “Age is just a determine. There’s a lot we will do, irrespective of how previous you’re.”

Clarification: An earlier model of this text acknowledged that 244 items of ghost gear have been eliminated since 2019. This has been modified to make clear that 244 items of ghost gear have been recognized, not eliminated.

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