The Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (UCHU) within Heritage Malta, in collaboration with the ATLAM Dive Club, recently completed the removal of a large net from one of Heritage Malta’s underwater sites.
The presence of ghost gear – abandoned fishing nets, traps, pots and lines – in the world’s oceans is gaining traction, with an estimated 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear left in the oceans every year. The dangers of ghost gear lie in its material durability, often floating on ocean currents and indiscriminately ghost fishing its way across the sea.
The Mediterranean and Malta are not exempt from this. The threat of entanglement is there for marine flora and fauna, often attracted to and flourishing at wreck sites. The threat is also there to divers visiting the site, often unaware of the dangers of ghost gear.
The site in question lies off the coast of Salina, where the wreck of a Second World War German Junkers JU88 aircraft rests on the seabed at a depth of 55 metres. The net removal operation was a joint effort between UCHU and the local ATLAM Dive Club. Nine divers participated in three separate dives, with the sheer size of the accumulated nets requiring quite an effort to cut loose and send to the surface.
The JU88 aircraft wreck is the first site in a series of planned net removal dives for other Heritage Malta underwater cultural heritage sites, of which there are currently 15.
Apart from contributing to the preservation of our submerged cultural heritage, such operations also reap environmental benefits, mainly through the elimination of ghost fishing and the removal of old fishing gear which damages underwater sites and negatively impacts marine life.