Shark killed as ghost net causes coral damage in South Sound

Two other sharks, fish freed from the net

A nurse shark was killed and two others, along with several species of fish, were rescued by Department of Environment officers after the marine creatures became trapped in a ‘ghost net’ in South Sound, near the Pallas wreck.

The net was discovered by a couple paddleboarding on Saturday.

“That’s tragic,” said Kelly Gallagher Walker on Monday, as she described her first thought when she saw the dead shark entangled in the net.

Gallagher Walker, during an interview via Zoom, told the Cayman Compass she and her husband David Walker were paddleboarding near their home when they spotted the net.

“We saw something kind of bobbing in the water close to the reef and it was the ghost net [which] had been wrapped up in a mooring ball. So, if they hadn’t had the mooring ball, we would never have noticed it because it would have been underwater,” she said.

She said they got closer to the mass in the water and anchored their paddleboards.

“[We] put our snorkels on and jumped in and saw that it was a ghost net, and then there was a shark in it, a little nurse shark. David went back to the house, grabbed some scissors. We cut it out. We couldn’t really tell if it was still alive or not. [We were] hoping it was, but it wasn’t… it was dead,” she said.

Gallagher Walker said they contacted the DoE, but they were unable to come Saturday. The next morning, DoE conservation officers Mark Orr and Carl Edwards retrieved the net.

“It was quite a large net. When we first pulled up on it, it was a large mass that was probably 20 feet long by five or six feet wide and five or six feet deep. It was attached to several small coral outcroppings and rock outcroppings on the bottom,” Orr said in a telephone interview with the Compass Monday.

He said that was second-largest ghost net found in Cayman waters in recent years.

The largest such net was discovered floating off Grand Cayman in 2018 by fisherman Charles Ebanks, and contained hundreds of dead fish and sharks tangled inside.

Orr said that, luckily, the net did not claim a lot of marine life, but it did damage coral.

“There was a lot of small coral heads that were rolled over… in the end we put them back as much as we could. We stood all the ones that we could find upright [and] made sure all the net was clear from them. But there was some damage,” he said.

Orr said he had been able to free two nurse sharks that were also caught in the net along with some fish.

“This one appeared to be a commercial fishing net. I can’t say as to whether it was an illegal net … or not,” he said.

The net most likely came from another country or from international waters, Orr explained.

“We don’t allow commercial fishing in Cayman with nets like that,” he added.

Orr said he and Edwards tried to get the net out of the water, but it was too large. He said such nets pose a serious threat to divers and members of the public who may be compelled to retrieve it.

“It can be quite dangerous, especially if you’re free-diving around it, and down at a depth, if it’s at sea. In the end, what we were able to do to limit the danger was to actually free it [the ghost net] from the bottom and from the rocks and coral and then we actually towed the main mass of the net to shore,” he said.

Then, Orr said, they got it on the beach and dragged it up a bit farther using his truck so that it could be picked up by the Department of Environmental Health.

He urged the public to report all net sightings, whether on the beach or out at sea.

“What we ask is that, if they can, get a precise location by GPS and note the wind direction for us when they report it so that we have an idea of what direction it’s going in, and we’ll make all efforts to get it removed as fast as possible,” Orr added.

Walker said he was pleased to see the DoE rescue the two sharks.

“There’s a nice little colony of nurse sharks that lives in that area right there where the net had become lodged and it was so sad to see one of them dead. But if the DoE hadn’t come out when they did, there would have been three dead at least. That would’ve almost wiped out that little community of nurse sharks,” he said.

To report nets or marine offences, call 949-8469 or email [email protected]. If you see a crime in progress, call 911.

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