Ghost nets are harmful to the environment

Nets and fishing gear lost or discarded in the sea are known as ghost nets. Sometimes they get caught on underwater obstacles or they tear and disappear completely. They cause harm to nature, the national economy, and to cultural heritage.

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Riikka Tevali

Riikka works as a maritime archaeologist in the Finnish Heritage Agency

Ghost nets underwater

Ghost nets continue to fish underwater, often catching fish, seals, and even birds. Sometimes nets and trawls collide with underwater cultural heritage sites, becoming trapped on underwater objects, such as shipwrecks, submarines, or aeroplanes. Deep wrecks, in particular, may have several nets tightly wrapped around them. Ghost nets which have become entangled on cultural heritage objects pose a threat to nature and are also a snag risk for divers exploring these underwater sites.

Diver looking a fishnet trapped in the wreck of a Russian submarine "Komsomlets" sunk in 1942.

Ghost nets are also removed in Finland

Ghost nets are a relatively new concept in Finland. However, here too, the first steps have been taken to remove such nets from shipwrecks. The Finnish diving group Badewanne has received funding to remove ghost nets from wrecks in Finland and Sweden. Check out their activities from their webpages.

When removing nets or trawls from wrecks, it should be noted that shipwrecks that have sunk more than 100 years ago are protected underwater cultural heritage. When wishing to deal with such wrecks, it is important to first seek the appropriate exploration permit from the National Board of Antiquities. It is also necessary to consider how the removal of the ghost nets may affect the artefact. Any changes made must be also properly documented.

A trawl caught up in the Russian torpedo ship Gordyj, which sank in 1941 after colliding with a mine.

The removal of nets promotes the study of cultural heritage and nature conservation

The removal of ghost nets provides information on the condition of the wrecks, as well as the nature surrounding them. Therefore, nature conservation and the study of history through shipwrecks work together to the benefit of researchers, divers, and marine animals. Such research will also benefit trawler fishermen, as the awareness of the location of wrecks increases. As a result, they can be avoided, and fishermen will no longer lose their nets to the depths.

In 2012, a total of 22 tonnes of fishing nets were collected from the Baltic Sea in a joint project between the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and the Baltic Sea 2020 Foundation. There is already a considerable benefit to the national economy from such an amount when these ghost nets no longer continue to fish under the surface.

Read more about the Baltic Sea 2020 Foundation.

Did you know?

The concept of so-called “ghost nets” began in the Netherlands in 2009, when a local diving association started cleaning nets from wrecks. These activities grew into the international Ghost Fishing Foundation, which now operates worldwide.