Underwater clean-ups in Turkey help free the Mediterranean from ghost nets

Posted: 8th June 2021

Photo: Zafer Kazilkaya/AKD

Fishing gear discarded or lost at sea are a widespread, and often overlooked, global problem. “Ghost nets” or “ghost gear” persists for many years or even decades in our oceans, damaging sensitive habitats and entangling marine species. With considerable recent attention to the potential for European plastic waste imports to affect Turkey’s environment, a successful push to restore a region of the ocean long affected by ghost gear comes as some welcome good news.

On the south-west coast of Turkey, local implementing project partner Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (AKD) – or the Mediterranean Conservation Society – are expanding direct restoration efforts and engaging local fishers to tackle a build-up of ghost nets, to allow vital marine ecosystems to recover. Forming part of the wider Gökova Bay to Cape Gelidonya project with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the work aims to restore the resilience of the marine ecosystem.

In the video above, General Coordinator at AKD Ozkan Anil explains the threat of ghost nets to marine life, including the Endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), from entanglement in the Mediterranean. Ghost nets can also damage sensitive marine habitats, such as Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica) which provides habitat for marine life and sequesters significant quantities of organic carbon if left undisturbed. In the longer term, the gear shed plastic particles, making it a source of secondary microplastic pollution.

AKD have been removing ghost nets and other potentially harmful debris from the Eastern Mediterranean for the last decade, but the current project has increased the scale of intervention. A new balloon system, which lifts the heaviest nets from the seabed to the surface, has allowed the AKD team to clear a historic build-up of ghost gear which was previously unreachable. Through engaging with local small-scale fishers, AKD have been guided to the locations most in need of underwater clean-up efforts, most recently in Boncuk and Karacasogut Bays. This forms one strand of AKD’s wider engagement with fishers and fishing cooperatives across the coastline, aiming to improve the sustainability of fishing practices through direct engagement with fishing cooperatives, patrolling and locally-led monitoring of fish catch landings.

In 2019 and 2020, AKD clean-ups have removed approximately 420km of fishing line, 42kg of fishing mesh, 856m of trap nets and over 60 kg of other marine debris including plastic out of the ocean forever. Marine wildlife in the area can now move more freely in the bay without risk of entanglement or death. This success complements AKD’s recent progress in the expansion of the Marine Protected Area network officially designated by the Turkish government in 2020, and the creation of an artificial cave ledge providing a safe resting area for rare Mediterranean monk seals.

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