Paralenz and Ghost Fishing partnered up to continue the movement on cleaning the oceans, this time with a focus on pollution made from different types of fishing. Here is what happened.

Initial research

In the autumn of 2017, the Ghost Fishing foundation was approached by a German lady who frequently visits the coasts of Ireland for whale watching trips. During those trips, she increasingly encountered the remains of lost fishing gear at the surface and at the shorelines. Very worried about what she saw and the entrapped animals that she witnessed, she reached out to Ghost Fishing and asked if we would be able to help do something about the problem.

Ghost Fishing is active in many regions around the world, but so far our teams have never worked in Ireland, hence we had no in-depth knowledge of the local situation and the kind and extent of a possible ghost fishing problem. Instead of sending a large cleanup team to an unknown area with an unknown problem just straight away, we decided to survey the area first, before committing ourselves on spending a lot of sponsor money in an inefficient way.

The purpose of the survey mission is to establish if there is a ghost fishing problem locally, and if so, identify what it comprises of: are there fishing nets, lines, lead weights, lures or lobster pots? In what quantity is it present and where exactly? Is the lost fishing gear still catching? To execute the survey, the team was to be equipped with professional DPV’s (Diver Propulsion Vehicles or scooters), submersible GPS trackers, log sheets and underwater cameras to document any findings.
Paralenz Diving Cameras mounted and ready to go
Paralenz has volunteered in supplying the cameras for the team, enabling them to document any material found and create a visual library of the encountered gear.

The first region

At the end of May 2018, a team of just two experienced divers from our team were dispatched to two regions in Ireland to do a survey.
ghost fishing Ireland
The first destination was the extreme west of Ireland, a scarcely populated area west of the Connemara National park, close to a village called Letterfrack. Based on Tully Cross, the two divers spend 3 days surveying the local coastlines for the possible presence of lost fishing gear with the assistance of local dive school Scubadive West. Using a very small RIB, the divers were deployed at different sites along the coastline surrounding the dive centre.

Already during the first dive around a small island, or better: a big rock, the team encountered several strings of lost lobster pots. Some of the pots had been in site for many months considering the marine growth on them, yet they still contained live animals trapped inside. The pots were opened and documented. And that would go on during all the subsequent dives when the team covered a lot of ground using their DPV’s to the maximum: A lot of the coastline was searched. The team encountered several strings of up to 8 lost lobster pots on every dive. Other types of lost fishing gear were not encountered.

Clearly, there was a lot of active lobster fishing going on in the area and apparently quite frequently, the strings of pots were lost during storms or buoys were accidentally cut loose by passing vessel traffic. Unfortunately, it was obvious that some of the pots continued to catch marine life nonetheless. A very clear and specific ghost fishing problem was encountered and documented: lobster pots. Other ways of fishing have been regulatorily banned in the area, and as a result, no other fishing gear was encountered.

The second region

After 3 days of diving the local waters, the team moved further north to the second region, Portstewart in Northern Ireland and continued the survey there. In this region, a few lobster pots were encountered, but far less than the situation was in the West a few days earlier. On one wreck some fishing lead and a small overgrown net were found. The problem here was found to be far smaller than in the west part, not justifying a larger cleanup mission.

At the end of each diving day, all the video footage of the fishing gear encountered during the dives was downloaded to our tablets using the Paralenz Dive Log App, enabling the team to quickly establish a documented inventory. The team used the White Balance on Auto mode and shot in 1080p, as the available 2,7K and 4K mods, were not necessary for our purpose, saving on download time and memory card space. The cameras are so small that they easily fit into the top zip pockets of our dry suits, and were easily mounted on handheld mounts with video lights or on our DPV’s. As the Paralenz Dive Camera has no external diving housing, we were never afraid of flooding, even when used in rough conditions or being thrown about in the small boat.

Next stop? Clean up!

The survey generated a lot of valuable data and precise locations of lost fishing gear. We have concluded that a cleanup mission later in 2018 is very much worth the effort in West Ireland, but not so much in Northern Ireland. We are aware of the presence of some old nets stuck to some of the deeper wrecks off Malin Head, but unfortunately, these are too deep for our teams to safely recover.

Decided was to launch a specific clean up mission later this year to remove all the encountered lobster pots in the west, possibly handing them back to the fishermen when still in good condition. After all, we’re not out to do harm to anyone’s business.

At this time, there is no cleanup mission planned in the North. We hope to document the cleanup mission in September, also using the Paralenz Dive Cameras. Our work is impossible without bringing the images of what’s down there back with us to the surface and showing the public what is going on beneath the waves. The Paralenz Dive Cameras have been invaluable in this process.

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