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Environmental Divers Clean Up the HMS Perseus

The Ghost Net divers are at it again, this time liberating the wreck of a downed British WWII sub from those deadly nets.

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Header photo by Cor Kuyvenhoven.

PRESS RELEASE
28 July 2020

While shipwrecks and reefs are hot spots for biodiversity by providing food and shelter to extensive marine life, at the same time they are deadly traps. Lost and discarded fishing nets, also known as ghost nets, often get snagged there, capturing animals such as sea turtles, dolphins, seals, birds, and also fish that die because they cannot free themselves. 

…And he’s free! Photo by Konstantina Kostoulo.
Freeing a small crab from the net. Photo by Konstantina Kostoulo.

In the area between the Greek islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos, the wreck of the British submarine HMS Perseus lies at a depth of 52 m/170 ft in the Ionian Sea.  Not unlike other wrecks, this one also comes with a fascinating story about its lone survivor, a British Navy stoker by the name of John Capes who escaped from the submarine’s hatch after it hit an Italian mine during WWII. He survived not only the journey to the surface, but also the five-mile (8 km) swim to the island of Kefalonia during the night, where he was hidden by islanders for 18 months before being smuggled in a caïque to Smyrna, Turkey. He was subsequently awarded a British Empire Medal. 

A small diver next to a massive wreck. Photo by Giorgos Kolikis.

The HMS Perseus is one of the biggest submarines of World War II and a cultural heritage site [2]. Between July 22nd and 26th, after long preparations, six specifically trained volunteer technical divers from Ghost Diving, who have long been allured by the mystery and historical value of the wreck, finally made it their mission to dive at the HMS Perseus to remove the fishing gear that was covering the submarine. By doing so, their goal was to protect the marine inhabitants of this biodiverse area, such as the loggerhead sea turtles, dolphins, and monk seals that just so happened to make an appearance in the area while the divers were working. It is estimated that millions of animals die each year by getting trapped in lost fishing gear.

Lifting the nets. Photo by Giorgios Kolikis.

The team performed three dives on HMS Perseus lasting 65 minutes each.  After a thorough survey dive, the divers decided to focus on the conning tower and the front outer hull. Following the second dive, the conning tower is now almost completely free of fishing nets, and the wreck’s original structure has been unveiled. During the third dive, a large piece of fishing net that was covering the outer hull and reaching all the way to the bottom, was also removed. The difficulty level of the job was escalated by the many long lines that had been mixed up with the nets over the years. However, the operation went as planned and without any problems thanks to the professional support of Aquatic Scuba Diving Club. The underwater cleanups lasted five days targeting also other wrecks in the area, at 50m/163 ft depth and recovering a total of 500 kgs/1102 lbs of lost fishing gear.

Spreading awareness to all visitors, big and small. Photo by Cor Kuyvenhoven.

The event was organized by Healthy Seas, and besides the sea clean ups, also included a public awareness event in the capital of Kefalonia. Local groups and various artists participated in the event, attempting to highlight the importance of the marine and coastal Natura 2000’s three sites around the island and raising awareness about marine pollution and ghost nets. The public event was organized within MIO-ECSDE’s ‘Mediterranean Action Day 2020’, supported by the LIFE+ Operating Grant for NGOs and made possible thanks to the support and hospitality of Aenos National Park, the Kefalonia – Ithaka Geopark, the Kefalonia & Ithaca Port Fund, and the Municipality of Argostoli.

A donation check from Healthy Seas. Photo by Cor Kuyvenhoven.

To further support endeavors for the protection of the endangered Caretta caretta, native to the Mediterranean Sea, Healthy Seas handed over a donation cheque to Kateleios Volunteer Group. Recently, Healthy Seas also released “A Turtle’s Fear”, a short and poignant film narrated by AJ+ and National Geographic journalist, Gelareh Darabi, about the ghost fishing phenomenon and its deadly effects on this majestic species.

The nylon fishing nets that were recovered during this mission will now continue on a journey from waste to wear and will be regenerated, together with other nylon waste, into ECONYL® yarn, the basis for new sustainable products such as socks, swimwear, sportswear or carpets. 

Barrels of nets lifted from the wreck. Photo by Cor Kuyvenhoven.
Heavy barrels being carried off to be recycled. Photo by Cor Kuyvenhoven.


Footnotes:

  1. The discarded, lost, or abandoned fishing nets are sometimes called “ghost nets”, since they continue to catch fish and other marine animals without human involvement. Millions of marine animals, including sharks, dolphins, seals and turtles suffer because of entanglement in these nets which leads to serious injuries and death eventually. Every year, some 640,000 tons of fishing gear is left in our seas and oceans. It is plastic waste that remains in the seas for hundreds of years and doesn’t biodegrade.
  2.  Unbelievable Submarine Escape Proven True – John Capes’ Story of Unsung Heroism in WWII – Wreckage Video

    PERSEUS SUBMARINE 1928-1941 – WRECK WRAK EPAVE WRACK PECIO

    Submarine escape: A WWII survival tale from Kefalonia

    HMS Perseus: The story of the sole survivor of a British submarine sunk in 1941 off Kefalonia, Ionian Sea, Greece
  3. Natura 2000 is a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species and some rare natural habitat types which are protected in their own right. Stretching over 18% of the EU’s land area and almost 6% of its marine territory, Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the World. The aim of the network is to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats, listed under the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Additional Resources:

  • Healthy Seas
    The mission of ‘Healthy Seas, a Journey from Waste to Wear’ initiative is to remove waste from the seas, in particular fishing nets, for the purpose of creating healthier seas and recycling marine litter into textile products. The recovered fishing nets will be transformed and regenerated by Aquafil into ECONYL® yarn, a high-quality raw material used to create new products, such as socks, swimwear, sportswear or carpets. Since its founding in 2013, Healthy Seas has collected over 510 tons of fishing nets with the help of volunteer divers and fishermen. https://healthyseas.org 
    First Healthy Seas Mission in the Ionian Sea – HEALTHY SEAS
  • Ghost Diving 
    Ghost Diving is a registered charity organization of volunteer technical divers specialized in the removal of lost fishing gear and other marine debris since 2009. The organization was formerly known as Ghost Fishing foundation. Ghost Diving is the biggest international diving team working on this topic with a track record in a significant variation of countries and international waters.
    Ghost Diving: Home

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Resurrecting a Ghost: The Launch of Ghost Diving USA

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By Katie McWilliams. Photos courtesy of Ghost Diving USA unless noted. Header image by Jim Babor

Ghost Diving, formerly Ghost Fishing, has officially arrived in the United States. Naming Southern California as home for the United States chapter is not an expansion to a new territory; instead, it is a warm welcome home after a long journey. 

Ghost Fishing first arrived in Southern California in the mid 2000s spearheaded by Karim and Heather Hamza. Their team, a group of volunteer technical divers, set out to improve the health and viability of the Southern California waters. The team started with the Infidel, a sunken squid fishing vessel near Catalina Island in 45 m/150 ft. They diligently worked to clean the Infidel which took almost two years. This victory was huge for their effort. Sadly, due to lack of funding, they were unable to continue other projects. Despite this hardship and some time away from their pursuit of the ghosts, Karim and Heather are back and more motivated than ever. 

Heather’s passion is deeply rooted in her mission to advocate for animals. This passion has helped her to push through and focus on advocating for the animals that are often unseen. The marine life that goes undetected but is ever threatened in our oceans. These are the animals Heather makes very certain to see. Her passion and love for them is palpable; it radiates from her like the warmth of a sunny day. It beckons you to join her cause. This is what keeps the fire alive in her heart for Ghost Diving. She knows that she can turn the collection of nets and her experiences into educational opportunities. Heather’s aspirations for Ghost Diving USA include continuing to educate others regarding the threat of abandoned and discarded fishing gear, seeking legislative solutions to the problem, and ultimately, building an informed and empowered community that takes care of our oceans.

Karim thrives in situations that require precision and accuracy. He explains that for him, this new era of Ghost Diving is providing a fresh opportunity to build a community of elite divers that share a passion for and commitment to a great cause. He has the knowledge and experience to help train and mentor divers along their path to becoming ghost divers and intends to give all he can to the process. He wants to bring to fruition teams of divers who trust not only each other but also the process, as well as high training standards and passion for the cause. As Karim described all the things that a ghost diver needs to be, one of the original team members immediately sprang to mind, Jim Babor. 

Jim recounted the arduous process that is becoming a ghost diver and being active with projects. He started with the project as a safety diver. The deep team would come up from the dive to the nets, and Jim would ascend with them through their scheduled decompression. He then progressed into his technical training and began photographing and documenting the work the divers were doing. Jim shared something that truly captures the essence of the passion needed to be a ghost diver. When asked about some of his most memorable incidents, he recounted the amazing experience of rescuing live animals by cutting them out of nets they were trapped in.. When asked what it felt like to cut an animal out of the net and watch it swim away, Jim was simply at a loss for words. We spoke on the phone and despite Jim’s reflective pause as he gathered his thoughts, it was apparent that the experience resonates with him on a deep level rooted in compassion. For Jim, the Ghost Diving USA launch brings his commitment and journey as a ghost diver full circle.  

Helping to lead Ghost Diving USA into the future is scientific coordinator Norbert Lee, Scuba instructor, marine biologist, and active technical diver. To speak to Norbert is to feel his can-do attitude and realize his aspirations are rooted in protecting and fostering the growth of the underwater world while educating the community about ocean conservation. More importantly, his strong sense of commitment to the team effort shines through everything. In asking Norbert about his journey to becoming the US chapter coordinator, he cited the significance of the mentorship he has and continues to receive. This mentorship comes from a variety of sources including Pascal van Erp, the Hamzas and Jim Babor. 

Norbert Lee’s goal is to collect data about the environmental impact of ghost nets and how their removal impacts the health and growth of a given area. By collecting this data, he is confident he can help to educate the community about the true impact of abandoned fishing gear. He does not want to stop with nets. He wants to help recover lobster pots and other fishing apparatus that continue to catch fish after being left behind. Through educating the community, he does not want to villainize or chastise commercial fishing but rather to build working, symbiotic relationships with fishermen. By working together, Norbert hopes to have the nets removed before they do irreversible damage. 

The Founding of Ghost Diving

Pascal van Erp has a commanding grasp on the issue of abandoned fishing gear. As the founder of Ghost Diving. Pascal’s passion has built a formidable and forward-thinking movement. Speaking to Pascal is a unique experience. He exudes a quiet confidence that only time and experience can build. In researching his work to prepare for his visit and subsequent presentations, it became quite apparent that Pascal is consistent in his message. The message is that Ghost Diving breathes new life into abandoned nets that can be recycled or upcycled. To reuse and upcycle the nets means to actively contribute to the health of the planet for today and more importantly, future generations. 

Next, Pascal emphasizes Ghost Diving is dangerous. He explains that the dangers are not always apparent. Instead, they lurk in the shadows cast by ghost nets. Team dynamics are not only critical but a matter of life and death. Pascal frequently mentions the significance of trust. The ability to trust teammates to maintain composure in the face of adversity. Trusting that if something goes wrong, they can and will continue to problem solve. Trusting that they can and will save your life. The team must always perform at the highest levels. It is critical that the dive is executed according to plan and that the procedure is applied with absolute fidelity. The nets do not discriminate between human life and marine life. They are not forgiving. A diver can meet an untimely fate in the grasp of a ghost net. 

Ghost Diving USA provides a unique and exciting opportunity by planting its roots here. With support from Zen Dive Co., ghost divers will have access to equipment, standard gasses and service that will meet all their needs while ensuring the quality and reliability of these resources. While funding issues had previously plagued Ghost Fishing, the Ghost Diving partnership with Healthy Seas along with other community sponsors helps to ensure the security of the critical funding that makes these projects possible. 

Launching Ghost Diving USA

Zen Dive Co. hosted a launch event for Ghost Diving USA on Thursday, April 28. The energy in the building was electric. Everyone was thrilled to network, build community, and work towards supporting Ghost Diving USA in any possible way. Karim opened the evening by describing the net diving mission that the ghost divers had gone on earlier in the day. He explained in detail that the Moody, a Wickes class destroyer, sits at approximately 45m/150 ft. Conditions at sea were challenging. Spring is a rough season in Southern California. Variable winds cause large swells, and upwellings bring up life giving nutrients. Unfortunately, both phenomena significantly reduce visibility. This dive was no exception. Karim described a thick green cloud in the shallower depths cutting visibility to 4.5–6 m/15–20 ft. This green cloud blocked out all ambient light as the ghost divers descended, and then cutting the nets only made visibility worse. Essentially, there was no ambient light, and visibility quickly became next to zero. The ghost divers were forced to rely upon the light they brought with them. Despite the challenges, the net clean-up was successful, but the work is far from done. The ghost divers will have to return to remove more net. 

Pascal made a brief presentation about the problem of ghost nets. It was incredible to experience a room full of people feeling compelled to act, and everyone looking for the way they could best support the mission. Veronika Mikos of Healthy Seas helped to drive the point home when she explained that through partnerships with organizations such as Bracenet and Aquafil, the recycling and upcycling of nets can help to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, as the ability to recycle nets and the products made from nets grows, they become sustainable and renewable. The yarn made from the nets can be processed infinitely and never loses quality. 

The most precious resource to any of these projects is manpower. Volunteers. People willing to train hard, think of the many versus the one and ultimately focus on safety. A ghost diver is a technical diver that has successfully completed a series of training workshops that help to best prepare them for what they will experience on a net retrieval dive. The workshops also serve to build team cohesion. Pascal and Karim both explain that the need to work with technical divers is not to be exclusionary. Ghost divers need to be able to handle any situation that may arise at any moment. Technical divers are trained to do exactly that. 

For recreational divers and non-divers alike, there is a place for everyone. Ghost divers cannot do what they do without support. Jim shared with me that his son, middle-school-aged at the time, used to volunteer as surface support. He and a friend would help to bring nets onto the boat and then search through them meticulously for any trapped marine life that could be released back into the ocean. Not only did his son help to raise awareness through multiple award-winning science projects, but he also became a diver crediting his experience helping with ghost nets. The Hamzas and Norbert hope to grow Ghost Diving USA to include recreational limit projects that allow for the training and participation of recreational divers. 

Ghost Diving USA is hitting the ground running. If you are looking for a way to get involved, a great place to start is to follow them on their social media pages. They are on Facebook and Instagram as Ghost Diving USA or @GhostDivingUSA. If you would like to inquire about the application process, you can reach the USA chapter via email at info@ghostdivingusa.org

You can also act right now. Learn about what abandoned fishing gear does to our oceans and talk to others about it. Through raising awareness, you can help remind people that while the surface of the ocean is beautiful, it is what is below the surface that desperately needs our help.

Photo by Sean Farkas

Additional Resources

Ghost Diving International:https://ghostdiving.org
Aquafil:https://www.aquafil.com
Bracenet:https://bracenet.net/en
Healthy Seas:https://www.healthyseas.org
Alert Diver:Ghost Fishing by Michael Menduno. The story of Heather Hamza and her team (2014).


Katie McWilliams is an avid diver, spending every spare moment she can in the water. Currently completing her divemaster and training for her technical pass, she wants to not only further her education and ability to explore the ocean but help with the training of divers. Specifically, Katie wants to focus on spreading awareness of how we can help the health and conservation of the oceans and marine life. Outside of diving, Katie works in moderate/severe special education. She enjoys reading, exercise, off-roading, camping and spending time with her husband, family and friends. 

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