UPDATED 2:15PM FRIDAY: A deadly “ghost net” discovered off Grand Cayman with hundreds of dead sharks and fish trapped inside was removed from the water Friday.
Fisherman Charles Ebanks rediscovered the discarded net Thursday and towed it into Harbour house marina Friday where it was lifted out of the ocean. The net is currently at the landfill and an international nonprofit group has offered to safely dispose of it.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said the net was ripped and much of its cargo of carcasses had spilled out between the initial sighting and the rediscovery on Thursday evening. He said, “It is out of the ocean. Which is the best case scenario.”
UPDATED 6PM: A large drifting net, that had trapped hundreds of fish and sharks, has been relocated off Grand Cayman.
The “ghost net” was rediscovered by fisherman Charles Ebanks snagged on a reef north of Rum Point this afternoon.
He managed to unhook it and under instructions from the Department of Environment, secured it to a nearby dive mooring.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the DoE, said a team from the department would go out in the morning to assess it and figure out a plan to remove the deadly net from the ocean.
ORIGINAL: The Cayman Islands may have missed an opportunity to right a “terrible wrong,” conservationist Guy Harvey said this week as the chances of intercepting a “ghost net” hoovering up marine life around the islands appeared to diminish.
Mr. Harvey said the net, discovered floating off Grand Cayman Monday with hundreds of dead fish and sharks tangled inside, was almost certainly an illegal pelagic long gill net, designed to indiscriminately kill everything in its path.
Meanwhile, a former captain with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has warned the killer net is likely one of thousands drifting in the open oceans. Sebastien Fau, who is currently visiting Cayman, said such nets were often cut loose by rogue fishermen on the run from authorities and could continue to drift and trap fish for years.
Despite the best efforts of the Department of Environment to locate the net, including scrambling the mosquito plane for a reconnaissance mission, it had not been spotted by Thursday afternoon. Mr. Harvey said it would soon have drifted beyond the territorial waters of the Cayman Islands and would likely continue its destructive path until it hit land, potentially killing hundreds more animals on the way. He said, “It is frustrating because we might have had a chance to right a terrible wrong. It is out of our control now. All we can do is keep looking and hope.”
The net was found by a group of fishermen just before 5 p.m. Monday evening.
Dominick Martin-Mayes, one of the anglers, said there were potentially 30 or more sharks trapped in the tangle of weighted netting that spanned 40 feet across and an estimated 40 feet deep. He said some of the animals caught in the net were so badly decomposed, it was impossible to tell what species they were.
Mr. Martin-Mayes and his fellow boaters contacted the Department of Environment with the coordinates of the net, but were unable to move it themselves because of its sheer size and weight. Their photographs have captured international attention, drawing new focus to the global issue of discarded debris in the oceans.
Mr. Harvey, who examined the photographs, said the presence of mature adult sergeant major fish around the net was worrying. Juveniles of the species attach themselves to floating debris for protection, he said, suggesting these were fish that had grown to maturity with the net, a process that can take a year or more.
He said ghost nets and other debris were a huge international problem, though he said it was rare to witness the extent of the devastation they could do firsthand. He urged anyone who sees the net to contact the authorities immediately.
Mr. Fau spent part of last year with the M/V Farley Mowat recovering ghost nets in the Sea of Cortez. While in Cayman, he has offered his services to the Department of Environment to help recover the net if it is relocated. He said such nets could be retrieved, but it requires a large boat with a crane.
Along with the rest of the Sea Shepherd crew, he said he collected more than 200 ghost nets off the coast of Mexico. Most of them had dead marine life trapped inside and a handful were as bad as the one found off Cayman this week.
“That is not uncommon,” he said. “I am not saying there is a lot of them around the Cayman Islands but I can guarantee there are thousands and thousands of them out there in the oceans, maybe more.” Mr. Fau said these giant nets were often cut loose by illegal fishermen on the run from the coastguard.
“[The net] can go on indefinitely; for example, this Oceanic whitetip shark [seen in the photograph] will decompose and the smell will bring other sharks who will become trapped. This will never stop fishing until it gets trapped somewhere on the reef or by chance washes onto the beach. Hopefully, we are lucky and the currents change and we spot it again.”
He said he was on standby to help recover it if it was found and an appropriate vessel could be sourced for the job.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said Cayman was witnessing a huge global problem drifting through its waters.
He acknowledged the chances of recovering the net were diminishing. He said an alert had gone out to all boaters and pilots in the area to look out for it, and Department of Environment experts were examining current patterns in an effort to determine its likely location. But he suggested it would soon be out of Cayman’s waters.
“The longer it floats out to sea, the further away from the island it goes and the chances of recovering it reduce. It will eventually break down, but it could continue to fish for a long time,” Mr. Austin added.