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The New Reef: First sighting of a ghost net

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Today the crew found their first ghost net – tangled snarls of discarded fishing lines and nets that can pose deadly threats for marine organisms, trapping dolphins, turtles, sharks, sea lions – even whales. Report from Marcus below on their first ghost net encounter in the Western Garbage Patch. Position: 25.13 degrees North, 153.56 degrees East’€œNet ball!’€ Hank yelled.

‘€œThere’€™s an Masked Booby sitting on top of it,’€ Cynthia says.
It turns out to be a 500lb ball of netting, rope and line from over 80 sources, all different, and fragments of commercial products, including 3 toothbushes, 1 cigarette lighter and two plastic straws. The bulk of these, and several pieces of chewed bottles, bottle caps and assorted food wrappers, are lodged in a tangled gill net. The whole thing from underwater looks like an upside-down floral arrangement, with lead weights taking some lines straight down, and foam floats taking lines outward.

Fish are everywhere ‘€“ mahimahi, amberjack, triggerfish ‘€“ circle beneath the net ball. Three fish are stuck inside in varying stages of decomposition. These nets catch more fish when they are lost than when they were owned.

After a long dive around it, we haul it above the deck to shake it out. More fish, a goby, 5 frog fish, hundreds of crabs, a shrimp, worms, nudibranchs, anemone ‘€“ Hank Carson from U. of Hawaii collects 26 species in all.

There’€™s great diversity of life and plastic, creating habitat where it wasn’€™t before. The reaction is awe at the life. When a dozen fish swim under you for shelter, you can’€™t help but laugh. When I pull a dead triggerfish out of the netting, I cringe at the thought of the thousands or millions of fish all these tangled nets have killed after being lost. Above all else, I have the same felling I get when you visit someplace beautiful, like the Grand Canyon or Everglades, and you see that someone dumped a pile of trash on the side of the road. It’€™s the sense that something is taken away from all of us ‘€“ the knowledge that there are places in the world, so valuable, so wild, that taking more than a memory would be unthinkable.

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