In November 2013, I attended Baltictech on behalf of Sport Diver UK Magazine, and heard a number of fascinating talks, given by the likes of the respected wreck explorer Immi Wallin. But one talk made a major impact on me.
It was delivered by a very tall, quiet Dutchman by the name of Pascal van Erp. Pascal explained how he had started to recover abandoned ghost fishing gear entangled on wrecks in 2009. He soon inspired others to join him. It was not long before organised teams of volunteer technical divers were recovering tons of ghost fishing gear off the Dutch coastline. In 2012, Van Erp formally founded the not-for-profit Ghost Fishing organisation.
Ghost fishing—a lost or abandoned net or other fishing equipment that is snagged on a reef or wreck—continues to trap marine wildlife.
I later reported "the one thing that really impressed me about the 'Project Ghostfishing' [organisation] was that they considered the aftermath and successfully 'closed the loop'... After a season of diving, they sent 22 tons [of fishing gear] to the Aquafil Group for recycling back into new Nylon 6 material."
The genesis of Ocean Positive
I was brought up as an environmentalist, I just didn't know it at the time. It is perfectly normal to me to recycle, reuse, repair and repurpose. When I heard about the production of ghost fishing nylon, I knew that there was one company that would embrace this material, recognise just how important it is, and would launch something spectacular. The manufacturer was Fourth Element. I grabbed the details from Van Erp and contacted Jim Standing of Fourth Element and said, "Here's your new product." One year later, the 'Ocean Positive' range was unveiled at DEMA.2014.
More people become aware
The issue of ghost fishing was first brought to the attention of the world at the 16th Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries, in April 1985. It is estimated that 640,000 tons of fishing gear get lost or abandoned in the seas and oceans each year (UNEP/FAO, 2009).
In the last eight years, the Ghost Fishing organisation has inspired many divers around the world to carry out environmental diving projects, and actively clean up the ocean by recovering lost fishing equipment. Today, there are nine chapters involved in this non-profit's global mission; Adriatic, Costa Brava, Egypt, Greece, Korea, Lebanon, New Zealand, Poland and the Netherlands. As a result, ghost fishing is now in the public eye thanks to key international collaborations, breathtaking underwater photography and impressive recovery and recycling results. This spectacular clean-up operation has also encouraged other agencies to sit up and take notice. In the last couple of years, PADI and TDI have developed their own specialist ghost fishing courses.
Ghost Diving is launched
Van Erp stated today, "Now that the problem of ghost fishing has been identified and is better known, it’s time to focus on the solution. We have therefore decided to rebrand our organisation and put the technical divers on centre stage, because they are the ones who recover the lost fishing gear from the seas and oceans. They deserve recognition for their truly tremendous efforts.”
We are rebranding to put the technical divers centre stage... they are the ones who recover the lost fishing gear from the oceans.
Van Erp believes that the term "ghost diving" will become the generic term for all divers working to remove ghost gear from wrecks, reefs or the seabed:
"We know that ghost fishing gear has been identified as the biggest plastic polluter in the ocean. Our Ghost Diving teams around the world are trained to combat this pollution whether it’s found on shallow reefs or great depths. Whilst our name has changed our mission and core values of Ghost Diving stay the same."