"I don't want one of your stupid plant pots!"
Ally Mitchell is a deep sea saturation diver come ocean advocate. He was on a salvage job in Scotland when he became involved with a stricken vessel full of millions of plastic pieces. He pocketed a few and took them home, wondering if he could create a way of turning them into something more useful, profitable and keep them out of landfill.
When he heard about a whale that had been found washed up with a huge amount of plastic in its stomach, he was compelled to do something on a much larger scale.
By sheer luck, I met Ally as he was a saturation diver on the offshore Dive Support Vessel, Boka Atlantis, where I work as a dive medic.
Ally was desperate to get out of the 'bin' and have his medical as he was excited about his new venture, Ocean Plastic Pots. He knew I was involved in recovering lost fishing nets or 'ghost gear' and we got our heads together to try and work together.
Ally was keen to come and learn to be a Ghost Fishing UK diver himself and after some head scratching over diaries, we found some dates that worked in the North.
We based the course at St Abbs, where fortuitously another diver medic and ex commercial diver, Danny Wright, had just bought a house and dive boat operation.
It seemed a perfect location to run the 3 day Ghost Fishing UK course.
Theory over Zoom: Garry Dallas: Agnetha the Spacetourer
Also joining us was a well know figure in the world of technical diving; Garry Dallas. Affectionately known in the industry as 'Sidemount Bob' Garry had a good reputation and is a thoroughly nice bloke too. He had been knocking on the door of Ghost Fishing UK for years, keen to do something proactive for the ocean and we let him in.
The third student was a lovely chap called Alan Paice who lived locally in Dunbar.
A tidy diver with a strong safety and team diving ethos, he was a doddle to train and a pleasure to have along. His local knowledge and spare kit also came in extremely handy!
Day 1 and the North east weather was sending brown waves over the harbour wall. This wasn't good. My bailout plan for the course was always Capernwray quarry in Lancashire but that was a real nuisance for everyone to up sticks and move. Plus, we had a smashing B&B in St Abbs with Danny and his wife Sally at St Abbs Charters.
Alan knew of a quarry somewhat closer that was deep enough for what we needed and had little enough visibility to provide a challenge!
Each diver had their own challenges to overcome. Ally had done hundreds of dives to silly depths in excess of 100 metres, but in a completely different style which was alien to how we do things. He had to analyse his own gas, plan his own dives and obtain neutral buoyancy pretty quickly. Fortunately, he is a very fast learner and by the final day was hungry to learn how to flipper backwards and was doing out of gas, neutrally buoyant ascents on an SMB and a long hose. I was chuffed with him.
Garry was a senior instructor in several disciplines so his biggest challenge was to become part of a team again - something he appeared to enjoy.
Alan had not done that much 'working' underwater so he got stuck in with cutting, lifting and managing ghost gear for the first time.
The team progressed rapidly and it was a pleasure to invite Ally to deliver a talk on plastic recycling and the hurdles he had to overcome from pollutants to red tape.
A visit to St Abbs harbour part way through the course seemed apt and it wasn't long before Glaswegian Ally had his face in a rubbish bin, picking out old fishing gear scraps and telling us all about their properties, recyclability (or not) and what he could do with them.
Garry and Ally share a joke at St Abbs harbour - it seems Ally's daughter was less than impressed with his new venture!
So how did they get on? Check out this little movie:
Christine Grosart is a Paramedic, working offshore mainly on diving vessels.
She started beach cleans around 2011 and has gone on to be a trustee, secretary, instructor and underwater photographer for the charity Ghost Fishing UK.
She wrote the first training course for scuba divers to remove lost ghost nets, in the world.
In 2009 she visited the far reaches of Wookey Hole cave and still holds the British female cave diving depth record.
In 2020 she became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for her work with Ghost Fishing UK as well as her cave diving exploration. In the same year she was included in the BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List.