Self-proclaimed “ghost net hunter”, Harry Chan has spent more than a decade hauling abandoned fishing nets out of the ocean. This retired septuagenarian is on a mission to clean up not just Hong Kong’s waters, but he has also been to the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei to spread awareness about the impacts of these “silent killers”.
JUMP-STARTING THE MISSION
It all started when he went to a beach clean-up with his friend in Hong Kong. He went into the water along the coastline and found just as much trash, if not more. Apart from the usual trash, he pulled out discarded fishing nets that were entangled on the rocks and corals. When he started diving, he found even more of these “ghost nets”, which also snagged marine life. Saddened but also emboldened by this, he took it on himself to make the difference.
GHOST NET MAGNET
Now, he hardly does much recreation diving. He says he seems to have a knack for finding these ghost nets, or ghost gear– abandoned or lost fishing equipment that float through the ocean, trapping wildlife, snagging on boats and even threatening divers. He’s had some close calls too getting himself entangled, and needing the help of his dive buddies to free him.
EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW
Although he has a small team of volunteers who go out with him to clean Hong Kong’s waters, he doesn’t want to be affiliated with any group or organisation. He will work with anyone willing to help him spread the word. That way, he can reach out to more people around the region and create a bigger awareness of this seemingly innocuous situation.
BIGGER IMPACTS THAN WE REALISE
Nature conservationists and activists campaign against ghost nets harming marine life and destroying the environment, but the larger impacts are really about safety and the enormous economic considerations that really affect the world as a whole. Abandoned nets carried by the currents cast away on beaches where people and their pets get entangled or injured by what the nets bring in with them. In addition, when drifting ghost nets get caught in cargo ships’ propellers, for example, it literally halts the entire supply line that costs billions of dollars. These giants have to be towed back to port where it will take time, and even more money, to remove the offending nets that carry other debris to further damage the ships.
GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION REQUIRED
Harry believes tackling the problems from the root could positively turn things around – this would protect the environment, ensure human and animal safety, and keep the world running. As ghost nets are often associated with illegal fishing, a strong collaboration between governments, corporations, marine police and conservation bodies have to be forged, so that resources, data and means can be shared to actively and responsibly enforce regulations. Harry hopes improved government policies will pay more attention to this and help remove the root cause for future generations.
CRAZY BUT PASSIONATE
This seems like a thankless task, but Harry is motivated to keep diving as long as there are ghost nets in the ocean, and meeting like-minded people who will go on this quest with him. Mind you, he does all this on his own dime, but he says it is well worth it when the world, especially children, can benefit from this.
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