The Net that Returned

Mining corporation, Alcan, supported the removal of the net once it was brought ashore. Photo by Jane Dermer.

The Net That Returned

A six-tonne Thai gill net was brought into the coast of North East Arnhem Land in late 2006 in a tremendous display of teamwork. It took 5 hours and lots of heavy machinery to move the net off the beach.

“We are very proud of the perseverance and commitment that our staff and our partners displayed when they pulled together to rid the ocean of this enormous ghost net, saving the lives two juvenile hawksbill turtles” said Steve Roeger, CEO of the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation. He added, “Our special thanks goes to:

  • Australian Fisheries Management Authority
  • Australian Customs
  • Northern Territory Parks & Wildlife
  • Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation.”

This enormous net had been sighted several times in the 18 months prior; however it proved too large to handle for any of the local barges and fishing boats. The first sighting was in mid 2005 near Bremer Island where Dhimurru Rangers worked with the local Police, the Nomad and Arafura Sea Charters in an attempt to remove the net with a barge. Two members of the team dived on the net, discovering that its voluminous body was in excess of 4 x 4 x 11 metres and was caught on the bottom of the sea.

In the week following the net drifted to the north of Bremer Island before traveling further out to sea. A year later an Australian fishing vessel reported a floating net, approximately 15 nautical miles from Bremer Island. Coastwatch promptly flew over the net to assess the situation and Customs contacted and instructed the nearby vessel Corio Bay to locate and tow the net to shore. It was then we discovered it was the same net returned.

Australian Fisheries Management Authority then contacted Arafura Charters asking them to facilitate the removal of the net. Arafura Charters in consultation with GhostNets Australia, Alcan Gove, Dhimurru, and the traditional owners, used their barge to drag the net onto the sand near Alcan’s export wharf. A team of contractors coordinated by Scott Chapman of GhostNets Australia, proceeded to drag, pull, push, lift and roll, the 68 metre long bundle of net up 250 metres of beach, to a semi-trailer. Their perseverance is to be commended as despite the use of machinery it took 5 hours to get the net onto the semi-trailer. The Alcan team estimated the net weighed about 6 tonnes as it filled their large side-tipper.

Whilst the team were able to rescue two juvenile hawksbill turtles from the nets, unfortunately a large hammer-head shark and a smaller reef shark did not survive.

The net was then taken to the Nhulunbuy dump where it was disposed of free of charge. Scott Chapman echoed the sentiments of all involved, “It was a fantastic and satisfying sight to see the net on the back of the truck after all the hard work that has gone into removing it over the past year."

Story by Jane Dermer.