In early January 2013, the personnel of the Bay Islands Conservation Association, BICA, discovered that a huge abandoned fishing net had drifted from the open sea onto “Raggedy Cay”, one of the popular dive sites on Utila’s West End, and was so big they were unable to lift or remove it, particularly as initial reports stated that the net was at a depth between 30 and 70 meters / 100 to 200 feet and as big as a volleyball court.
So BICA contacted all the scuba diving centers on the island, especially addressing Technical Divers to aid in the removal of the net in a joint effort and the next day Utila Dive Center sent a team to the dive site to research the actual depths and the size of the net in order to plan and execute the recovery in a single mission. It was important to recover the net as early as possible to prevent any aquatic life becoming entangled in this underwater hazard and to prevent further damage to the beautiful fringing reefs on Utila.
From the tec divers initial survey they found out, that the net was stretched out over about 150 feet (45 meters), about 10 feet (3 meters) wide and lying at a depth of 100 – 150 feet (30 – 45 meters). After evaluating the net and video footage, UDC’s tec divers decided to organize one single mission for the recovery with different teams of both recreational and technical divers working together, executing separate tasks each that were carried out:
Team 1 descended, located the net and marked the spot by sending up a surface marker at the shallowest point of the net.
Team 2 then descended and attached a lifting device at that end of the net to gently and in a controlled manner start lifting up one end of the net.
Team 3 (a team of technical divers from UDC as well as a freelance instructor) was gently releasing the net from the reef, cutting it loose and leaving the weights on the bottom (the net was weighted down with several cinder blocks in intervals of about 20ft (6 meters).
Team 4 (also a team of technical divers from UDC) was responsible taking footage of the whole mission, in order to record size and location of the net, execution of the mission and casualties caused by the net.
Team 5 was the biggest team of divers and responsible for coordinating the lifting of the net with buddy teams being distributed along the length of the net, each controlling the lifting of their section and coordinating with all the other teams so the net could be lifted as a whole with minimal impact on the environment and keeping everyone safe at the same time.
Team 6 was on the boat lifting the net onto the boat itself.
Upon successful removal and lifting of the net, the two technical dive teams then had to complete their decompression using pure oxygen before surfacing, where the boats could pick them up with everyone else already having surfaced before. All in all the mission was a great success: the logistics were complicated but the group as a whole worked in perfect harmony accomplishing the mission in less time than expected and planned for. The net was confiscated by BICA who will decide together with the local authorities on how to dispose of the net appropriately.
For the future, we will have a working system in place to remove any threats to the fringing reefs around Utila, in a timely and efficient manner, should a similar situation come up, and part of Utila Dive Centers tec training courses and mission based planning will focus on projects such as net recovery. The Utila Dive Centers involved in the mission: Utila Dive Centre/UDC Tec (including freelance Tec Divers), Parrots Dive Centre and the Bay Islands College of Diving.