Removing drift nets from our reef

Nothing But Net…

… and it’s nothing to do with basketball….

B&J’s Project AWARE Team hit the reefs this weekend as part of their monthly commitment to remove debris from our beloved reefs.

The good news is that there was hardly any of the usual culprits of bottles, plastic bags, food packaging. Looks like our daily tirade against marine debris is paying off – Our Dive Masters, Instructors and customers pick up every bit of rubbish they can find while diving, stuffing it into their BCD pockets to be disposed of responsibly at the surface.

The other bit of good news is that we removed nearly 100kg of fishing net…

The bad news is that this was only a fraction of the total amount that we saw down there!

The B&J crew often report large items of debris that would be too heavy or time consuming to remove during their regular leisure dives. Taking these reports, we planned our monthly clean up activity for March to focus on Labas Island where we knew there was a large fishing net drifted onto the boulders in the shallows and Magicians Rock where on a crew fun dive at the end of the 2015 season we saw huge nets over a wide area.

On Saturday 12th March we took a boat load of volunteers plus Alvin from Reef Check Malaysia and headed out to Labas Island. We hadn’t even reached the dive site before we saw some strange balls floating at the surface. At first they looked natural, and the initial thoughts that they were coconuts or some kind of seed pod. We carried on and the numbers grew and grew until it suddenly dawned on us that these were oil balls caused by ships flushing out their bilge tanks at sea – something that is completely illegal by international law.

Oil balls floating at the surface between Tioman and Labas Island
Oil balls floating at the surface between Tioman and Labas Island

It was so frustrating to see thousands of these balls and being able to do nothing about it. The conditions were to rough to maneuver the boat safely, and we just didn’t have the tools to even begin to think about collecting them.

We continued on to Labas and dropped down to find the net. Swimming along the reef everything looked good, hardly any trash. We found the net that was reported – it hadn’t been there long as we could still see it’s original blue colour with hardly any algae growth.

Huge drift net caught on the shallow reef at Labas
Fishing net swaying back an forth in the swell and abrading the coral beneath it

The swell made it a particularly tricky job – we were essentially removing net in a washing machine! Good buoyancy control is always required for this type of job, but even more so today.

Stuffing mesh bags with trash
James stuffing mesh bags with trash

We managed to remove all of the net from the boulders, stuffed it into our collection bags and headed back to the surface after an 80 minute dive.

During lunch we headed over to Mangrove Bay. It was high tide and as we could get the speedboat right up to the mangrove forest, we decided to go check on the roots which are always covered in debris and an ongoing battle for our Project AWARE team. We once again witnessed the usual sight of ropes, plastic sheeting, floats and fishing net tangled in the maze of roots. We spent about 30 minutes on one 15m stretch of mangrove and between the six of us filled 4 rubbish bags. The sad thing is that the Mangrove forest is huge and we are making little impact. We are planning to enlist the help of the local school kids in Tekek and make a day spent in the mangrove removing debris.

Beautiful Mangrove forests
Beautiful Mangrove forests

We spotted yet more oil balls in the tranquil waters of Mangrove Bay. As the conditions were a lot calmer than in the open ocean, we collected as many sticky balls as we could be snorkelling and maneuvering the boat.

James fishing for oil balls
James fishing for oil balls

We thought we’d collected them all until we moved round the corner to one of the bay’s beautiful beaches and to our horror saw hundreds of clumps slowly melting in the sun. We weren’t equipped to deal with an oil spill so we did the best we could, but eventually had to admit defeat and headed home for the day.

Total amount of debris collected from Labas
Total amount of debris collected from Labas

On Sunday 13th March, we headed to Magician’s Rock – no sign of the oil balls from yesterday, the ocean currents are moving them fast. We knew that there was a lot of net at our favourite spot on Magicians – Top Rock. The conditions were pretty rough and as we used GPS to maneuver into position, we jumped in to carefully position a shot line for the rest of the team to descend.

We got straight to work once underwater, the current was strong and there was a little bit of surge and working at a depth of around 15m, air consumption and deco time was against us!

The team removed all of the net they could find around top rock, filling their bags and using lift bags to send larger chunks of net to the surface.

James floats the large nets sent up from the depths by SMB back to the boat
James floats the large nets sent up from the depths by SMB back to the boat

A good job done and we counted down the minutes trying not to get sea sick during the rocky surface interval. We decided to head back down again and see if there was any more debris we could take care of.

We thought we were winning after finding just a long rope and some mono filament fishing line.

Darren wrestles a long line
Darren wrestles a long line

That was until we moved to the other side of top rock and were confronted with a HUGE net. The biggest we’ve ever seen. We didn’t even know where to start – every direction we looked we couldn’t see the end of it.

Surveying the huge nets
Net as far as the eye can see

We attached an SMB to one section and started cutting away. Unfortunately, working down at 20m, our repetitive dive NDL was quickly ticking away. The OC divers left leaving Darren on CC to lift the section back to the surface. We estimate that this chunk was probably less than 1/10 of the total amount.

In total we collected 96kg of net from just 2 dive sites. We’ll continue our tirade against these drifting menaces. If you’d like to help with this kind of activity, do get in touch with Nic (nic@divetioman.com) we’re always looking for willing volunteers!

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