The Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (UCHU) within Heritage Malta, in its continuing collaboration with the local ATLAM dive club, has completed another net removal project at one of Heritage Malta’s underwater sites – the HMS Nasturtium.
Around 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans and seas every year, and ghost gear – abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear – makes up 10% of that waste. The dangers of ghost gear lie in its material durability and buoyancy, persisting in the marine environment for decades.
Historic wreck sites attract a variety of marine life but also act as catchment areas for ghost gear, entangling and damaging historic remains and marine life. The threat is also there to visiting divers, often unaware of the risk of entanglement posed by nets, lines, and other lost fishing gear.
In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the threats posed by ghost gear, and a growing number of grassroot initiatives, both locally and internationally, have targeted this problem. In Malta, the presence of ghost gear on historic wreck sites has been noted through diver surveys and as a result, Heritage Malta, in collaboration with the local ATLAM Sub Aqua Club, has initiated a net removal project on its underwater sites.
Throughout May, June, and July 2021, the project concentrated on the HMS Nasturtium wreck site, located approximately 10km off the coast of Valletta. Divers from both the ATLAM dive club and Heritage Malta participated in a number of dives, freeing the site from a large burden of nets.
HMS Nasturtium was an Arabis-class sloop, purposely built for minesweeping duties by the Royal Navy during the First World War. The sloop was launched in December 1915, and was based in Malta.
On 24th April 1916, HMS Nasturtium left Malta, only to return on orders to sweep for mines and submarines known to be in the area. On 27th April, HMS Nasturtium entered the same minefield that had sunk the battleship HMS Russell earlier the same day, and struck a mine. The explosion occurred below the waterline on the starboard side, resulting in loss of life. The hole left by the explosion caused tons of coal to be lost. Consequently, the vessel listed heavily on its port side. In the early hours of 28th April 1916, HMS Nasturtium sunk, settling upright on the seabed at a depth of 67 metres.