Dual Triumph in Italy: Liberating WWII Planes Wrecks from Ghostnets

Friday, 17 Nov, 2023


At the end of June 2023, Sea Shepherd volunteers undertook an unprecedented operation in Augusta, off the Italian coast of Brucoli in the Bay of Catania. This mission, while part of the ongoing Ghostnet Campaign, was unique in its nature, symbolizing a dual victory both for environmental conservation and historical preservation.

Sea Shepherd catamaran, the Conrad, in Augusta. Photo by Sea Shepherd Italy.

The seabed in this area is a submerged archive of history, home to numerous aircraft wrecks from the Second World War. Over time, the sea has integrated these relics, turning them into thriving micro-habitats rich in marine biodiversity. However, the serenity of these underwater memorials has been disrupted by ghost nets—abandoned fishing gear that not only poses a threat to marine life but also dishonors the memory of the pilots who died in these wartime crashes.

Divers inspecting the wreckage. Photo by Sea Shepherd Italy.

Removing the nets ensnaring the plane wrecks was a task of both environmental urgency and respect for history. The operation faced substantial challenges due to the complex dive conditions. The nearby Sineto River reduces underwater visibility to nearly zero, with strong offshore currents creating disorienting, fog-like conditions.

Undeterred, our volunteers, in collaboration with the Capo Murro Diving Center team, embarked on the ambitious task of cleaning two plane wrecks: a German and an English aircraft, both lost in July 1943. The Conrad catamaran, Sea Shepherd Italy's vessel, played a crucial role in this summer's mission. Over three days, the team successfully removed 300 kg of various types of fishing gear, including lines, ropes, gillnets, and trawl nets, from the wrecks, thereby preventing further environmental harm and loss of marine life.

Preparing to haul in the ghost nets. Photo by Sea Shepherd Italy. Scroll right for more.
Preparing to haul in the ghost nets. Photo by Sea Shepherd Italy.
Preparing to haul in the ghost nets. Photo by Sea Shepherd Italy.
Preparing to haul in the ghost nets. Photo by Sea Shepherd Italy.

This mission held a special significance for the volunteers. Beyond the usual environmental objectives, it was an homage to historical events. Enrico Salierno, Campaign Leader of Ghostnet, reflected on the importance of recognizing and respecting the events of the war as vital to shaping a sustainable future, emphasizing the critical need to protect our oceans for the survival of humanity.

Ghost nets are a pervasive problem, constituting over 48% of the plastics in 'floating waste islands' and 70% of the weight of all macroplastic debris in the oceans. In the Mediterranean alone, lost or abandoned fishing gear, estimated at over 4,000 tonnes annually, accounts for 10% of all marine waste. These nets, morphing into deadly traps for marine life, perpetuate a cycle of destruction, suffocating fish, killing corals, and then resurfacing to continue their deadly path.

Sea Shepherd's intervention in Augusta stands as a testament to their commitment not only to marine conservation but also to honoring our shared history, demonstrating that environmental action can intersect meaningfully with the preservation of our past.


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