A few weeks ago, while conducting a deep dive scenario with some Divemaster candidates, Richard stumbled across a dumped net in the TAR Park off Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
After noting the net's location, he vowed to return later to remove the culprit.
Since Richard had conducted a removal training session a few days earlier, it seemed perfect that Wellson and Bob organize the dive and brief the team for preparing them for the tricky mission ahead.
Downbelow quickly assembled a team consisting of in-house staff and professional interns, some of whom had not been involved in this kind of activity before, requiring thorough briefings by Downbelow's Assistant Base Leaders, Wellson and Bob.
"Although the net was large, we through it not to be too much trouble as it was lying on a large sandy slope mostly away from any reef," explained Richard.
"How wrong we were!"
As the net removal crew arrived at the location, it became clear there was a second net running parallel to the first.
Both nets started at around 9m, but descended to more than 30m.
"We instantly set about rolling up and lifting the hazard to the surface," said Richard, "with bottom time becoming a huge issue as we followed the mesh into the abyss."
"Extra caution had to be taken as diver entanglement at these depths could be fatal."
As Richard was surfacing with his final ball of netting, he sighted, to his disbelief, yet another volumous net.
This required a second dive in the afternoon to remove the third section of net.
It too was lying on a sandy slope adjacent to Gaya Island, which fortunately was much simpler to remove. Entanglement on a reef of a large volume of net such as this would have taken multiple dives to extract with a much higher marine life and reef death toll.
Richard said of the 3rd section of net "We hoped marine-life entanglement would be minimal as most reef inhabitants would not venture too far into the 'desert'."
"However," he noted, "once we began to examine the fatalities, one species seemed to be hit the hardest."
Richard and his crew noticed a signficiant number of the strange and rarely seen, prehistoric Horseshoe Crab.
"This amazing animal has been basically unchanged and inhabiting earth for more than 450 million years and there they lay trapped in a discarded illegal modern day fishing net" fumed Richard, who is also a passionate Marine Biologist.
"We removed the carcasses, some fully grown, possibly up to 40 years of age, who had sadly perished."
Downbelow has conducted many net removal programs over the years, mostly in reef areas, and discovered a broad array of marine-life entangled in them.
"But Horseshoe Crabs," he explained, "are seldom seen by divers - particularly during the daylight hours - so this was an unexpected tragedy."
"We managed to release a couple who survived and the net is now destroyed, so they are safe to roam the sandy slopes of Gaya Island once more" Richard added ending on a positive note.
Richard calculated the size of the nets collected, which added up to an astonishing 5,400 ft² of sheer menace that the Downbelow team removed from the South China Sea.