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International Marine Conservation Organisations Return to Greece to Tackle Ghost Farms

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Another massive marine protection effort just wrapped up on the island of Ithaca in Greece. Last year, the record-breaking cleanup project by Healthy Seas and their partners removed 76 tons of marine litter from seas and beaches in eight days. This devastation was caused by an abandoned fish farm ten years earlier that had wreaked havoc on the environment, the community, and maritime traffic.
It turns out that the same aquaculture operation ran another facility elsewhere on the island, and instead of removing the nets, rings, and floats when they ceased operations, operators sank the apparatus to the bottom of the sea. 

It is estimated that 580,598,234 kg/640,000 tons of fishing gear are lost or abandoned annually in the seas and oceans[i]. The phenomenon takes the name ghost fishing because the nets appear almost invisible underwater, trapping and killing all manner of marine animals. It is not clear if the UNEP statistic also accounts for entire ‘ghost farms,’ a sad but true occurrence in Greece.

 “The main difference of this ghost net cleanup project is that the owner of the abandoned fishing gear that we discovered and removed has a name. We have confronted this environmental crime two years in a row, we’ve worked toward restoring the damage as well as finding out who is responsible, and we now find ourselves in a position to do something. The matter is very complicated. Our goal with this project is to raise awareness about ‘ghost farms’ and to put an end to them.” – Veronika Mikos, Healthy Seas director

Hyundai, Healthy SeasGhost Diving, and many other partner orgnisations, local fishers, and volunteer divers ran a clean-up project from March to June 2022. The team focused on 14 different locations around the island, including the ghost farm and Vathy Harbour. In total, about 23,500 kg/26 tons of waste were removed, of which 18,500 kg/20 tons were nets and 5,000 kg/6 tons of other types of marine litter, including several hundred meters of gillnets and long lines.

 To kick off the Return to Ithaca, the team hosted a public awareness event in the main square, which included the screening of a short documentary about the efforts of 2021 and a special photography exhibition which will now move to Ithaca’s Environmental Education Center. Approximately 180 children attended education programs and activities throughout the day—almost all the children living on the island.

Twenty-five big fish farming nets were removed from the ‘ghost farm’ in the Kalavri area. The coordinated effort began with volunteer divers—from the Netherlands, UK, Lebanon, Hungary, and Greece—cutting and attaching lift bags to the nets. Once at the surface, a crane barge lifted the nets out of the water and placed them in recycling transport containers. These nets will be regenerated with other nylon waste into ECONYL® yarn to make new products such as socks, swimwear, act\ivewear, carpets, and more.

“Everyone on Ithaca is grateful to Healthy Seas and Ghost Diving for their efforts to protect our island two years in a row. They were aware of the destruction but didn’t have the means to do anything about it besides witnessing their homeland being ruined by unethical, to say the least, business practices.”-Local environmentalist George Lilas, the man responsible for revealing the environmental destruction of ‘ghost farms’ in Ithaca

Prevention is the only way to stop the ghost fishing phenomenon and halt ocean degradation. To this end, besides the cleanup activities, Healthy Seas and Enaleia’s Mediterranean Clean Up project team have been working together since 2017 to educate fishers in Greece and Italy and collect their waste nets before they end up in a landfill or pollute the natural environment. During the Ithaca project, five local fishers mobilised to limit fishing activity and collect plastic from remote locations around the island.

Other key partners included Odyssey Outdoor Activities, Iaseas, Kefalonia Fisheries, the Municipality of Ithaca, and the Hellenic Coast Guard. The project is conducted under the Auspices of the Hellenic Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Hellenic Ministry of Environment & Energy.

About ghost fishing

It is estimated that 640,000 tons of plastic fishing gear is lost or abandoned in the seas and oceans each year. Since plastic waste does not biodegrade, the litter can remain in the oceans for hundreds of years while introducing microplastics into the food chain. The phenomenon takes the name “ghost fishing” because the nets are almost invisible underwater, trapping and killing any species of marine animal—including turtles, fish, mammals, and birds—that get entangled, suffer and eventually die.

About Healthy Seas

The mission of Healthy Seas is to remove waste—particularly fishing nets—from the oceans in order to create healthier ecosystems and recycle 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, and carpets. Since its inception in 2013, Healthy Seas has collected over 700,000 kg/773 tons of fishing nets and other marine litter with the help of volunteer divers and fishers.
https://www.healthyseas.org/

About Ghost Diving

Ghost Diving is an international non-profit organization of volunteer technical divers who, since 2009, have specialized in the removal of lost fishing gear and other marine debris. 
To this day, the Ghost Diving team has carried out diving projects independently or in collaboration with several international environmental and/or diving organizations including Healthy Seas Foundation, Greenpeace, WWF, Global Ghost Gear Initiative, and Global Underwater Explorers. https://ghostdiving.org/

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Conservation

Book Review: “We are the Ocean,” by Captain Paul Watson

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An illustrated journey to teach kids about the importance of water. 

By Amanda White

When you read with children, they are connecting the words you say to the pictures on the page and to the things they see and do in their world.  That seems pretty obvious, but a lot of parents don’t make the connection that the stories you choose to read to your kids can have a great impact on your child’s outlook of the world and themselves. 

So, for us underwater lovers and environmentalists, books that cover these topics are key to teaching our children how important it is to protect and love the planet we call home and the creatures that live here. Storytelling is a powerful way to not only encourage your child’s imagination and further their education, but it is also a great way to shape the way they will go out and care for the planet and the beings on it.

Such books covering topics related to environmentalism and protecting the ocean are growing within the children’s book industry. One such book that was released this year is “We Are the Ocean” by Captain Paul Watson who founded the activist organization Sea Shepherd, whose mission is to protect and conserve the world’s oceans. 

In his book Captain Watson explores the connection between water and all living things. He takes a poetic stance toward describing how water sustains life and the continuous cycle through which it goes through all animals and plants. He explains this very simply for kids to understand the concept on the most basic level. 

With beautiful illustrations by Sarah Borg that depict the adventure of two children and their dog friends, your child will learn about the importance of water and our direct relationship with it. The book teaches kids that water is in the cells of all plants and animals, including their own bodies. It even explains that readers drink water that was “once within the body of dinosaurs”. The book does a great job of sharing the concept that the ocean is a part of all of us and even has a Sea Shepherd boat in the illustrations. The hope is to instill young readers with a love for the ocean and a passion to take care of it as they grow older.  It rings true of Captain Paul Watson’s most infamous quote, “If the oceans die, we die”.

“We are the Ocean” is great for kids who are just learning to read, as it is written for kids ages 3-5 years old who are in preschool or kindergarten. This book would be a great addition to your child’s reading list and would make an excellent holiday gift for the ocean-loving kids in your life. You can find We are the Ocean online and in stores at Barnes and Noble, on Amazon, and in the Paul Watson Shop.

A Bit About Captain Paul Watson

Named by Time magazine as one of the “Top 20 Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century,” Captain Paul Watson, has been fighting for our planet for over 60 years.  For years he worked on freighters and deep sea vessels and it was because of this, as well as his participation in a  demonstration at the U.S. and Canadian border, that he and several others created Greenpeace. Watson and the group were demonstrating against nuclear testing on Amchitka Island in the Aleutians. He continued his activism, and in 1977, he founded Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose mission is to be “a global movement to defend, protect and conserve life and diversity in the ocean.” Today it truly is a global movement with chapters in over 40 countries and is one of the few organizations that is actively protecting wildlife. Their current campaigns are, “Saving the Vaquita”, “Preventing IUU Fishing”, “Protecting Wild Salmon”, “Beaked Whale Research”, “Protecting Sea Turtles” and “Ocean Cleanup”

Dive Deeper

Read more about Capt. Paul Watson and other stories by Amanda

InDEPTH: Can We Save Our Planet? What About Ourselves? Interview With Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson by Amanda White

InDEPTH: Where have all the young divers gone? Meet Rob Thomas and Young Divers International by Amanda White


Amanda White was one the minds behind InDEPTH when it first began, through her work as Marketing Director at Global Underwater Explorers. 

Her main passion in life is protecting the environment. Whether that means working to minimize her own footprint or working on a broader scale to protect wildlife, the oceans, and other bodies of water.  Amanda holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, with an emphasis in Strategic Communications from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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