Cornish clean-up

Emma (right) recovering ghost gear in Cornwall. Image: Rich Walker

Our annual summer project is a mix of diving and public outreach. This year it was held around Falmouth, Cornwall at the end of August 2019. Here volunteer Emma Biggs gives her personal account of her time with Ghost Fishing UK.

Day one…outreach at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek.

Up and at ’em…all the team were down to do the first setup of the Ghost Fishing UK stand. After an hour of unloading the vans, setting up the gazebo, television and public address system, we were ready to engage the public who had come to see the seals!

A flurry of people chatting, kids playing the fishing game diver Fred Nunn devised, and generally highlighting what the charity is all about. Rich Walker gave a talk and people were keen and interested in what we had to say and learn more about what we do…we even rescued the seal sanctuary mascot from some nets.

Diver Jason Bramwell ‘rescuing’ a trapped seal.

Diver Martin Maple gets a hug from a grateful seal!

Day two…Porthkerris diving.

This morning the team split up with Rich taking the Mini Beach Cleaner for an ‘intro to scuba diving’ lesson, while the remainder of the team was set for a survey dive. Out with Porthkerris Divers on the Celtic Cat. Amazing calm conditions above and below the water. Survey of the SS Carmarthen wreck complete, in the afternoon, Rich re-joined the main group and we had the pleasure of having the Mini Beach Cleaner and his family onboard to see what happens on a net recovery! Two teams working on the net recovery that had been surveyed that morning, we also had a few dolphins pop along to check what we were up to. Dives complete and net on board, it was lovely to see what the team does through the eyes of non-divers but equally share the passion to protect our seas.

Day three…whole team diving day!

All the team was set for a full day of diving, surveying previously reported nets on the wreck of the SS Epsilon diving out of Mylor Harbour on Seawatch 1. Two teams surveyed different areas of the wreck to check recent reports of nets. The surface interval gave us time to debrief and hatch a plan of action to maximise recovery and get this wreck as clear as possible! After the recovery dive it was clear the divers could spend some more time on this wreck…so we will be back later in the week!

Unloading the nets in the harbour, another skipper popped by to ask if he can take one of the recovered lobster pots…his wife wants to use it in the garden…re-use mantra alive and kicking!

Day four…diving and outreach at Marizion.

Today the weather failed us, but the team spirit didn’t! The outreach team had the vans packed up and headed to the famous St Michael’s Mount beach to spread the Ghost Fishing UK word.

St Michael’s Mount behind the Ghost Fishing UK stand!

Faced with driving rain we decided to wait it out a little before setting up! When there was a brief gap, all hands were on deck (or beach). Gazebo up, we were catching people as they headed to the rocky island. We were joined by Connie a regular beach cleaner and her cat(!) and our lovely friends from Fourth Element.

Despite the weather people were approaching us and keen to find out more…we were scuppered by an approaching tide though and made a call to move our setup further along the beach…just in time before high tide!

We ended up moving the entire setup three times in total to avoid being washed away…but we persevered, and so did the public; then finally the sun came out! We spoke to a lot of people making the most of the sun at last! Getting quicker at putting up and taking down this stand!

Mid-week status…two days, four dives and seven divers can recover from a wreck approximately 150 kilograms of lost trawl net.

Day five…diving and evening social event setup.

Another split day, divers off to Porthkerris again, and the helpers to prepare for the big evening social event! We’d been kindly loaned the campsite barn to hold the evening bash in, but it needed a bit of tender loving care…Simon Scott to the rescue! He was a superstar! While Christine Grosart was off for an early morning radio interview, Toni Bryant and I did the supermarket run to ensure we had a fully stocked bar to thank our sponsors, and special guests! The rest of the day was spent making sure the barn was all set for the night ahead!

A great evening with talks from Rich and Fourth Element, highlighting what lies beneath the surface, and the work that’s being done to try and fix it. Great question and answer session and lots of local interest…all steps in the right direction!

Emma (behind net) recovering ghost gear. Image: Rich Walker

Day six…diving and outreach at Maenporth Beach.

Another team split day, this time divers headed off out of Mylor Harbour to tackle the SS Epsilon again, while the outreach crew were headed just down the road from the campsite to Maenporth beach.

By now we were getting the hang of the setup and it now took less than an hour! The beach was already getting busy as it was looking to be a lovely sunny day! We had interest straight away from the staff at the beach café, and that set the day up…a busy one at the beach meant we were all on the go non-stop! People were keen to hear the message behind Ghost Fishing UK, families took part in mini beach cleans and people stopped to watch the television showing all the footage. One of our lovely sponsors from the Sealife Trust also popped by! We had set the turtle (photographed below) up to guess how many eggs she had laid, and again had our friends from Fourth Element setup beside us.

In the afternoon Christine did a talk, which had a great turn out, and again lots of question and answers from children and adults. Slowly spreading the word! The engagement from the kids was great to see, and hopefully this means the next generation is already informed!

The divers had a bit of a disaster in that the boat had some engine issues so sadly was not able to go out. Some of them joined us on the beach to strengthen the numbers and the rest went to sort out the week’s stinky nets!

In the evening everyone was back and we ended the day with a snorkel in the sea and a barbecue on the beach!

Christine Grosart (top) and the beach at Maenporth (bottom).

The Ghost Fishing UK stand (top) and fluffy turtle (bottom).

Day seven…whole team diving day!

Back to the SS Epsilon, with two teams of divers on a mission to get as much net as possible cleared. Two dives and more net lifted. In total 540 kilograms of lost fishing net was removed from the sea around Cornwall this week. It was an incredible effort by the team of divers.

But it didn’t stop there. We reached out to the public and everyone who met us was left with a glimmer of hope that something positive may be happening for our oceans after all.

What an awesome week, with awesome people! Thanks Cornwall…I’m sure I will be back!


Diver profile: Emma Biggs

Emma Biggs

I learnt to dive in 2003, something I had always wanted to do, but never really had the cash for. When I got my first job and met a new friend who also wanted to learn, the deal was set and we signed up to PADI – two weekends at Horsea Island and we were qualified…scary stuff! Following that I spent a lot of time at Portland and the harbour wrecks! Since then I’ve been lucky enough to go to some amazing places and dive around the UK, and will continue to travel and see more!

My partner learnt to dive after spending one too many weekends in a wet car park waiting for me to come back from a dive. He got the bug bad, and soon discovered GUE and got more into technical diving. He then joined Ghost Fishing UK through mutual friends…he would dive all the time if he could! I like to balance my life a little bit more than him, so have been to a few Ghost Fishing UK trips as crew, and helped along the way in various ways, but the Cornwall trip was my first experience of conducting survey and recovery dives…as a diver!

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