Ghost nets become art

croc sculpture
Ghost net crocodile on the beach at Strand Ephemera 2013

What is a Ghost Net?

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been lost accidentally, deliberately discarded or simply abandoned at sea. They drift with the currents and tides for many years, continuing to catch and kill turtles, sharks, fish and other marine wildlife.

Northern Australia supports an array of marine and coastal species including six of the world’s seven marine turtle species and four sawfish species, many of whose populations have declined elsewhere. Ghost nets are part of vast rafts of marine debris arriving from SE Asia that are fouling this otherwise pristine coastline, mostly owned and occupied by Indigenous peoples of Australia.

Who are GhostNets Australia?

Over the past 10 years Indigenous Rangers from the NT and QLD have been concerned about the many turtles that are entangled in ghost nets and the large number of nets that wash up on the beaches. The Rangers collaborated with other non-government organisations, calling themselves the “saltwater people,” to clean up and monitor ghost nets in the Gulf of Carpentaria. In response to these concerns, GhostNets Australia (initially known as the Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme) was established in 2004.

GhostNets Australia is an alliance of over 22 indigenous communities stretching across Northern Australia from the Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Kimberleys. Since its establishment, the project has achieved the removal of over 12,000 ghost nets of varying sizes from approximately 2500km of coastline. Less than 10% of them have been attributed to Australian fisheries.

This has resulted in the recovery of a proportion of the trapped wildlife, particularly marine turtles, and the prevention of the ghost nets from returning to the sea where they can continue their destruction.

This project promotes indigenous interests and seeks to assist Aboriginal communities to manage their sea country by building skills and knowledge, assisting in the establishment of institutional frameworks and opening channels of communication between these communities on a scale that has never before been experienced in Australia with a single project.

This multi award winning programme is managed by the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group (NGRMG) with funding from the Australian Government until 2013. The Australian Government funding is matched by stakeholders’ cash and in-kind contributions.

This information on GhostNets Australia is based on their web site and their Facebook page.

So where does the crocodile come from?

I knew Marion Gaemers had had something to do with it but I didn’t really know her role, so I asked her to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. This is her answer:

After initially collecting and burning the nets in the communities, the organisers wondered how they could be used instead of destroyed, so they had a competition to see what people could make from the nets. The winner was a woman who made a guitar strap and her prize was to go to Hammond island and work with the locals on producing items with the net. At that time they mostly made bags.

From there GhostNets Australia employed Sue Ryan as an arts coordinator to find out which communities would like to have people come in and run workshops using the net. Over the five years or so of this project about ten artists have been employed to go into different communities on this basis.

I met Sue when we went to Moa Island and started the project there. Two other artists went after us and did this puppet project. After that I went to Mornington Island with Sue and with Lynnette Griffith (the third artist in the Umbrella Studio exhibition) to Darnley Island. Lynnette is the arts coordinator on Darnley. We wanted to continue to work together and so decided to have an exhibition of our work in Umbrella, “Mesh” in April-May 2013.

Gallery flyer for "Mesh"
Gallery flyer for “Mesh”

For my third trip to Mornington, Lynnette brought the Darnley island artists to work with the Mornington Island artists. From there we were employed by Floating Land Festival on the Sunshine Coast taking Moa and Darnley Islanders with Sue, Lynnette and myself as coordinators. Lynnette and I have also gone to Bamaga.

The crocodile shown at Strand Ephemera was made in Cairns, at CIAF (Cairns Indigenous Art Fair) 2011 with artists coordinating indigenous people and visitors to the fair to complete it. Ghost Nets Australia also did drop-in workshops at Strand Ephemera where they coordinated visitors to the strand to help make a large sea turtle.

croc sculpture close-up
Deadly no more

• A slightly shorter version of this post appeared in Waves, newsletter of the Reef HQ Volunteers Association, February 2014 issue.

2 thoughts on “Ghost nets become art”

  1. Another use for ghost nets. It might not be art, but it will recycle far more nets.
    “Working with the Zoological Society of London, Interface partnered with people in 26 villages in the Philippines region of Danajon Bank to collect, clean and bale old nylon fishing nets, to be recycled into new carpet fiber. The discarded nets themselves had been an ecological blight, destroying coral reefs and mangrove swamps, among other things. Now, they create new economic opportunities in Interface’s supply chain. To date Net-Works has harvested nearly 100 tons of discarded nets. A second program launched recently in Cameroon, with a third location to be announced later this year.”

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