Feature Story

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Turning trash into treasure

Ghost nets are lost or abandoned fishing nets that drift with ocean currents (sometimes man hundreds of kilometres) and have the potential to entangle and kill marine life including seabirds, fish, sea turtles, dugongs and dolphins. They are largely found in Australia’s northern waters after they have either been abandoned by illegal fishers or drifted in from foreign fishers operating further to the north of the Australian Fishing Zone.

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In conjunction with other Australian Government agencies and local indigenous communities, AFMA detected 21 ghost nets across northern Australia during 2016–17. Fourteen nets were retrieved representing a retrieval rate of 67 per cent, a ten per cent increase on 2015–16. Rather than sending the retrieved nets to landfill, AFMA has begun providing art galleries and indigenous art centres with nets to be recycled as art.

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To help raise awareness of ghost nets AFMA has commissioned several pieces from Erub Arts Centre, Pormparraaw Arts Centre and Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts Aboriginal Corporation to take pride of place in three AFMA offices in Thursday Island, Darwin and Canberra.

Commissioning indigenous artists to turn ghost nets into artwork not only produces wonderful creative pieces depicting the marine environments at the heart of their communities, but raises awareness about this important environmental issue.

Images (top to bottom): Crayfish and artist Solomon Charlie from Erub Arts. Ancestral Turtle and Artist Marrawakamirr (Susan) Marrawunggu from Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts. Ghost net in northern Australian waters. All photos courtesy AFMA.