The Coulombray Ghost Net: French officials turn hostile when Sea Shepherd does their job

Monday, 07 Aug, 2017

In September 2016, local divers reported a ghost net measuring approximately 2000m² abandoned by poachers in Le Coulombray, a popular diving site off the Mediterranean coast of Palavas les Flots (near Marseille, France). A year later, the authorities had only offered vague promises to remove the net which has been stifling everything beneath it, so Sea Shepherd’s divers began pulling it up themselves this month as part of Operation Mare Nostrum, an ongoing campaign to remove ghost nets from the Mediterranean Sea. But instead of thanking the volunteers, the French authorities issued a press release expressing their disapproval and possible charges against Sea Shepherd. This is the response from Sea Shepherd France President Lamya Essemlali.

Part of the ghost net retrieved by Sea Shepherd in Le Coulombray on August 5th.

In a statement dated August 4, 2017, the French Department of Maritime Affairs (Direction Départementale des Territoires et de la Mer, or DDTM) made a public statement expressing “strong regret” that Sea Shepherd started removing the deadly ghost net of Coulombray despite the DDTM’s announcement that they would start removal themselves the end of September.

Sea Shepherd “regrets” that the DDTM has waited almost a year since the first report of the net’s existence before considering its hypothetical removal (as per their use of the conditional "could be removed by September").

This 2000m² ghost net has had time to kill everything beneath it, and contrary to what the DDTM says, it continues trapping marine wildlife today (we have the images to prove this). The DDTM refers to a "lost" net, but this isn’t the case since its owner knows very well where it is. It’s an abandoned poacher net.

If the principle of “the polluter pays” doesn’t seem to interest the State, in its press release against Sea Shepherd it came up with the original idea of “the cleaner pays”. Indeed, in their sudden interest in preserving the site, the DDTM announced that it would send divers to inspect the area after our passage to possibly press charges against Sea Shepherd if we damaged the diving site while removing the net.

We'd like to remind the representatives of the State services concerned that Sea Shepherd is an NGO whose mission is to "Preserve the fauna and flora of marine habitats". In other words, saving lives and preserving ocean ecosystems is, unlike the services of the State, our priority. For three years now, we have removed dozens of ghost nets with one obsession: save as many lives as possible and preserve the marine habitat. Our net removal protocols have been created with this goal in mind, while guaranteeing the safety of our divers. We film all of our net removal operations and have the videos to attest this.

Our divers are qualified, rigorously recruited, and – an important detail to note – volunteers. Our services are free of charge and will not be invoiced to the State such as the case with government contractors hired to do the job.

We take particular care to remove these deadly nets at our own expense and under optimal safety conditions. Therefore we were expecting something more than a hostile reaction on the part of those whose primary responsibility it is to rid the site of this death machine.

We remain skeptical when the DDTM declares that it will assume additional restoration operations of the site after our passage in case of deterioration. Do they intend to cultivate sea sponges and bryozoan? The only thing the site needs is to be rid of this net that’s stifling it. And it's being done. Our team has already removed 200m² of net (10% of the total area) and we were pleased to see that small sea animals have already returned to the area we liberated during our first dive.

We would be delighted if the DDTM's sudden interest in preserving the site is sincere and is nothing more than a mere knee-jerk reaction by the competent authorities faced with their incompetence to react within a reasonable timeframe.

Finally, if the DDTM intends to pay divers to inspect the result of our work once the net is removed, why not send them now so they can lend a hand to our teams who will have to work for several days on this net? Unlike the services of the State, when a helping hand is extended, we know to accept it without the sin of pride, in the interest of saving our oceans. The sooner we have freed the Coulombray from this ghost net, the sooner we can be on our way to find others that need removing.

We would like to thank Christian Jeanjean, Mayor of Palavas Les Flots, for his kind welcome and support, as well as the Port de la Grande Motte. Thanks also to our volunteers and donors who help us to be effective and responsive to emergencies.

Read the original article, in French, here: Filet Fantôme du Coulombray

UPDATE AUG 12: The local authorities finally come around to working together with Sea Shepherd. Read the article here.

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