When most people think of debris in our ocean they imagine piles of garbage, floating plastic bottles, broken glass and rusting metal. All of those things, and more, are certainly part of the problem but one issue less often considered by the general public is how debris causes entanglement, injury, or death of many marine animals.
Fishing lines, nets and hooks are all serious concerns for many larger marine animals such as rays, seals, sea lions, dolphins, sharks, turtles and whales. Mantas are particularly vulnerable due to their large wingspan.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with renowned animal rescuer Keller Laros on this topic. As founder of Manta Pacific Research Foundation, Hawaii and a 28 year veteran PADI Instructor and Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Keller has participated in more than 50 rescues efforts over the years. He guides manta dives at Jack's Diving Locker in Hawaii, and as a 100% AWARE dive center, his affinity for mantas and marine life in general has earned him the nickname “Manta Man”.
Keller spends most of his time diving around Hawaii and indicated that on at least one quarter of his dives he sees fishing debris such as lines and hooks, which are the most common source of marine entanglement that he’s personally witnessed. During most rescues, he’s only able to remove part of the fishing line or hook since a full removal is difficult when the animal is swimming freely.
Just this year Keller helped rescue a bottlenose dolphin that had become entangled. The episode shared far and wide, was caught on film and can be watched here.
Rescue and Removal Can Be Risky
When encountering marine debris on a dive, Keller suggests carefully removing it. Keep a free pocket in your BCD or carry a small bag with you to put debris in since carrying it in your hand could cause you to lose or risk hurting yourself. Be aware that hooks are sharp and take precautions not to injure yourself or your buddy. Keep a cutting tool in or attached to your BCD, such as EMT shears or a knife.
According to Keller, sometimes well meaning people make a situation worse due to their lack of experience in entanglement rescues, so he asks divers to exercise caution. Lines must be gently cut away, not pulled, and doing so can be time consuming, difficult and in some cases risky. Divers should learn what they can about such rescues before attempting them. Find a local marine rescue organization and volunteer with them or take classes if they offer them. Along these lines, Keller has been putting together a Manta Rescue Project to consolidate his years of experience in entanglement rescues of various marine life. Be aware and do your part to remove debris, but do so safely and with concern for marine animals and reefs.