ATHENS, June 23 (Xinhua) -- According to recent estimates, about 640,000 tons of nets are abandoned in the oceans every year, 3,000 of which in the Mediterranean Sea.
"They trap sea animals, such as turtles, dolphins, but also fish which, had they not been killed in those nets, could be fished out by fishermen," Jenny Ioannou, communications coordinator with Healthy Seas, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Even though ghost nets constitute a deadly danger to marine life, not enough people seem to be aware of this environmental problem.
Healthy Seas, a circular economy initiative founded in the Netherlands in 2013, is on a mission to change that and raise awareness about sea waste and ghost fishing nets in particular.
"Ghost nets are fishing nets left in the oceans either on purpose or by accident by fishermen who were not able to retrieve them," Ioannou said. She explained that the nets were often drifted away by sea currents and caught at rocks or shipwrecks.
They pose a threat not only to marine but also human life.
"If they remain in the seas for years, they dissolve into microplastics which eventually end up in our own food chain," she added.
In order to address the issue, Healthy Seas operates in five European countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, Italy and, since 2015, Greece. With the help of local volunteer expert divers who also locate the nets, they stage frequent diving missions to retrieve ghost nets from the seas and give them new life.
"The nets are sent to be cleaned and then they end up at a factory in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where they undergo special treatment to produce new Econyl thread which is then used to make textiles, clothes, rugs etc," she explained.
Healthy Seas most recent operation in Greece took place recently in the iconic Greek island of Santorini this June.
"We had been informed since 2016 that some nets had been found on the seabed of Caldera," Ioannou said.
The volcanic world-famous island was picked not only to attract worldwide interest, but also because of its fragile marine equilibrium.
"Since the sea environment of Santorini is particularly sensitive, we decided to take action and perform a big operation in the area," Ioannou highlighted.
In order to accomplish the task of removing the 150 m. long net, Healthy Seas collaborated with Cousteau divers and a local diving center.
"The Santorini operation was one of our largest. It took eight divers, five of which were technical, specially trained divers," stressed Ioannou, who described the mission as very dangerous.
The divers had to go 50 meters down, cut the net at the points where it was entangled, attach it to lift bags which would lift it to the surface, and then pull it out of the water.
Because of the size and weight of the net, pulling it out would have been impossible without the help of the local fishermen who offered the special equipment and their expertise.
The whole process was live streamed through Healthy Seas' facebook page, and narrated by star diver Pierre Yves Cousteau who was also answering the public's questions while underwater. The live stream attracted viewers from all over the world.
"We had extremely positive feedback. Most people were amazed at the size of the net we retrieved," Ioannou said.
"Since 2010, Pierre-Yves Cousteau has set his heart in the effort to found a protected no-fishing sea zone in Santorini and has the support of local fishermen. So, they were already aware and sensitized to the issue," Ioannou underlined and added that the municipality, coast guard and fishing associations welcomed the project and generously offered their help.
According to Ioannou, the only sustainable solution to this problem would be for fishermen to use fishing nets made of nylon, rather than low-quality plastic which cannot be recycled. For that reason, Healthy Seas has set up numerous recycling stations across Greece and encourages fishermen to leave their useless nets in the recycling bins.
"We hope that many more people will follow our example locally. We are here to share our know-how and experience on this topic," Ioannou stressed.
As she said, more and more people are concerned with environmental issues and this makes her optimistic about the future.
"Circular economy is now a priority in Europe and initiatives such as Healthy Seas appeal more and more to the people," she added.
However, more and more people have to take action in order for something to change. "Apart from donations, which are always welcome, people can support healthy Seas by cooperating with us, launch a local action, and, if they are divers, by volunteering for us," Ioannou told Xinhua.