A deadly “ghost net” devouring fish and sharks off the coast of the Cayman Islands was removed from the water Friday thanks to the efforts of local fishermen.
The net, spotted several miles offshore Monday with multiple dead fish and sharks trapped inside, was relocated by angler Charles Ebanks near Rum Point late Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Ebanks tied it off to a dive mooring overnight and returned Friday morning to drag it ashore. It was lifted out of the water at Harbour House Marina using an excavator and dump truck.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said it was transferred to the landfill temporarily and an international group had volunteered to dispose of it safely.
He said the net was ripped and many of the creatures, including a juvenile Oceanic whitetip shark poignantly photographed ensnared in the mesh, were no longer inside. He said the shark could have been dragged out by a larger predator or the net could have partially unspooled, releasing some of its grim cargo, as it snagged on the reef or the ocean bottom.
Mr. Ebanks said it was floating in around 35 feet of water when he found it Thursday.
The fisherman, who famously tackled an armed robber during a liquor store holdup telling him “not today, Bobo,” took a similar no-nonsense approach to the killer net.
He said he had been determined to get it out of the water as quickly as possible.
“I went out at 7 a.m. Friday because I wanted to get it out before it did any more damage,” he said.
“It has probably killed thousands of fish in the time it has been drifting. I am so thankful it is out of the water. I make a living fishing. We can’t have stuff like that in our waters.”
Mr. Ebanks and his brother Adroy free dove on the net, using ropes to cinch it into a manageable bundle, before towing it through the North Sound.
Along with DoE research officers they helped release multiple lobster, crab and smaller fish from within. Despite initial estimates earlier in the week that there were 20 or more dead sharks trapped inside the net, there was no sign of any still inside on Friday.
Experts have estimated the net – an illegal pelagic long gill net – could have been adrift for as long as two years.
Conservationist Guy Harvey said the presence of mature Sergeant Major fish in its midst suggested it had been floating for a long time.
Jason Washington, a dive instructor and photographer who joined the retrieval operation Friday, said an 18-inch lobster found in the net seemed to confirm that hypothesis.
“That lobster would have attached to the net as larvae which means it could have been drifting for several years.”
He said it had grown to maturity with the net existing on prey drawn into the mesh.
“It had become its own ecosystem,” he said.
“It is eye-opening. These nets are travelling the world’s oceans, and if they don’t wash ashore or hang up on a reef they continue to do what they are designed to do, and that is to kill indiscriminately.”
The net was first spotted Monday around four miles offshore. Dominick Martin-Mayes, one of the fishermen who found it, said it spanned 40 feet across and around 40 feet deep and was filled with dead fish and sharks, some of which were so decomposed it was impossible to tell what species they were. The fishermen took photographs of the net and passed the coordinates on to the Department of Environment, but it was too heavy to move. An alert went out to all boaters and pilots in the area, and it was finally spotted by Mr. Ebanks Thursday.
In the circumstances, Mr. Austin says this was a good result.
“It is out of the ocean, which is the best case scenario,” he said.