A team of senior and experienced divers from the Gibraltar Sub-Aqua Dive Club 888 (GSAC 888) supported by dive teams from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Climate Change (DEHCC) and the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) recently completed the difficult task of removing a 400m2 ghost net off Europa Point within the Southern Waters of Gibraltar Marine Protected Area.
Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been discarded or snagged and left on the seabed. These nets can continue catching fish for long periods of time causing significant impacts to marine life. They also pose a danger to the navigation of vessels and the safety of divers. These are some of the reasons why nets have been proscribed in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters since 1991 under the Nature Protection Act and in keeping with the fundamental objective of Marine Protected Areas to safeguard marine habitats and species.
The net was reported by an active member of the Gibraltar Snorkelling and Spearfishing Association who was diving in the reef known as Los Picos off Europa Point, the location where the New Flame ran aground in August 2007. Divers from the GSAC 888 quickly formed a team to initially assess the net and then formulate a detailed dive plan and risk assessment in conjunction with the DEHCC and GFRS dive teams.
The operation entailed a series of dives that required the net to be secured safely underwater and then lifted to the surface using specialised diving equipment known as lift bags for extraction onboard the Environmental Protection and Research Unit’s (EPRU) ‘Storm Petrel’. Some protected species that had recently been entangled in the ghost net such as spider crabs and also demersal fish were rescued in the process. Upon close inspection at the EPRU’s marine base, it appeared that the net had likely been discarded elsewhere at sea, drifted and then entangled on the remains of the New Flame wreck.
The diving operation was executed with the assistance of the Gibraltar Port Authority and marine assets from the Royal Gibraltar Police, HM Customs, GFRS and the DEHCC’s EPRU. The DEHCC would like to thank all the agencies involved in what was a complex yet successful operation. Special mention and credit must be made to Christopher Redondo for promptly reporting the ghost net and to Nick Balban, Robert Sheriff, Nicholas Barbara, Dennis Santos and Nicholas Martinez from the GSAC 888 dive club for their determination and commitment in removing the ghost net safely.