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  • Christine Grosart

The monster net

“Oh Hello, this is the Guardian. Do you have a moment?”

I was only a few slurps into my morning coffee and my breakfast was about to go cold.

“Sure, how can I help?”

The problem of Ghost Fishing - an image says a thousand words. Photo: Christine Grosart

Volunteering for the charity Ghost Fishing UK always threatened to take over our lives and we can safely say it has done just that.

My partner, our chair Richard Walker, myself and third trustee and operations officer Fred Nunn, a long-standing friend of about 8 years, all work pretty much full time in addition to our real full time jobs to run this world leading charity.

We have the largest group of Ghost Fishing trained divers in the world, with 70 on our books and 120 on our waiting list. This is in addition to a large pool of surface volunteers who we can call on at any time for help.

Just some of the Ghost Fishing UK volunteer divers, weighing a ghost net after recovery.

It is an incredible achievement and now, as a completely independent charity we are free to do things our way - and the organisation has flourished.

When I first took a bunch of Bristol no.3 British Sub Aqua Club members on a group trip with WetWellies Caving - my first customers in fact when I started in 2012 - I had no idea it would lead to this!

Fred is instrumental in the charity as is Mark Hall our webmaster - there isn’t much he can’t turn his hand to.

Fred goes caving! with WetWellies!

Much of what we do is self-taught. The skillsets we have adopted over the 5 years of running Ghost Fishing UK have sent many of our brains bulging. Who knew we'd have to write KML files or navigate the .gov website minefields? Risk assessments, mission statements, method statements, articles, training courses, name it!

Many of us are doing things we probably never would have done otherwise and it has been a true rollercoaster. Fred was terribly nervous in front of the camera - now he takes live BBC interviews in his stride.

I had no press training but found myself having to learn the tough way and absorbing any education around the subject that I could.

This was one such occasion. I had written a press release using a template and some excellent educational materials from Class:PR and it went crazy!

After the Guardian, we started to see that a lot of news outlets were picking up our story.

Scuba divers from Plymouth had reported a very long, lost gill net on the popular and very beautiful Hand Deeps reef.

With a few reports and details in hand, we were pretty sure we could find it and deployed two Ghost Fishing UK teams onto the water. We were treated to a nice big hard boat, Seeker from In Deep Dive Centre and a professional crew who are totally on board with the charity.

One team located it and began surveying it.

Luckily, I was in that team so set about the net with my camera, documenting the trapped life in it.

The lost net at Hand Deeps. Photos: Christine Grosart/Ghost Fishing UK

Spider crabs, lobsters, fish and even urchins had got tangled up in the unforgiving gill net which had been fishing around the clock, indiscriminately.

Once surveyed, the team returned with knives, lift bags, stage bottles for lifting gas and a plan.

The net came free from the reef relatively easily and with no damage to the environment.

Once back on board the boat, the 2 hour ‘crab picking’ began.

Each trapped animal was documented according to species and whether it was dead or alive.

Luckily the sun was shining and the In Deep crew waited patiently as we dealt with each animal.

Over 100 animals were trapped in the net and around 80% were still alive and returned to the sea.

The net was measured at over 200 metres long (Fred is very keen on measuring and weighing things accurately) but its owner, not surprisingly, could not be found.

I put my new-found press release writing skills to the test and with a good story to tell, kept my fingers crossed.

BBC Spotlight did two great pieces on the story and we were then contacted by ITV and Channel 4, all keen to come out and film with us in the future.

Our social media lady, Dolly, also set about Instagram and Twitter and the levels of engagement were phenomenal.

It was a huge boost to the team after several months of being unable to dive, never mind head out on a mission and it was fantastic to get this net out of the sea so efficiently after a long time off.

Check out this fab news piece by the BBC!

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