Line of Death at Pulau Semakau (17/7/10)

Today, i have many photos of fishies, but unfortunately all in the same backdrop and predicament – struggling for their lives in a long driftnet that cut across all 3 of the site 2 transects.

When we approached the site, we noticed unnaturally frequent splashes of water (like when fish slap the water’s surface) and later as we were laying out the transect lines, we realised that the splashing sounds were from fish struggling in the drift net. After finishing up our monitoring, we got down to work to try and release as many fish as possible.

At first glance the evil tangling lines of the drift net are not immediately obvious, its no suprise that many marine creatures would accidentally stumble into one.

A trapped rabbitfish that along our transect

Jason cutting free the rabbitfish. This was one of the lucky ones.

When fishes struggle to get free, they tend to get even more caught up in the lines. This fish had gotten the lines wrapped tightly many times around the gills and even after we cut it loose it didnt move very much.

Fish that get entangled nearer to shore during high tides die from lack of oxygen when the tide goes out and they are left stranded aground.

Apart from fish, many crabs were also entangled in the net.

This individual seemed convinced that we were the trappers and was very defensive. Fortunately he was cut loose (with great caution).

Some were so badly entangled that we were unable to cut them loose for lack of time (the tides were coming in)

Mr Lim Cheng Puay freeing a Leatherjacket

A leatherjacket that made it..

.. and another fish that didn’t.

This parrotfish had its sharp teeth caught in the net, and as soon as it got loose it tried to snap at us. Fishes that get stuck in drift nets attract predators as they are unable to escape, and the predators themselves in turn get stuck in the net as well. The fishes that get eaten are the luckier ones, those that survive but are still stuck die slow deaths. Drifnets also uproot seagrasses, sponges and sometimes corals, damaging both the ecosystem and its inhabitants.

Jason cutting free a long fish..

..And a crab. He managed to save about more than ten lives with his trusty nail clipper.

Mr Lim and the team working to haul out the net. Because we had cut the net in half, it was likely that the fishermen who had cast the net would abandon it, so we had to ensure that as much of the net was removed as possible, or it could risk becoming a ghost net and continue being a permanent killer on the shore or out at sea. This meant that since the tide was coming in, we had to haul the net out as fast as possible, so we had to halt the rescues and remove the net, even if there were still living creatures stuck in it. Necessary sacrifices to prevent the net from killing further.

The nets we hauled out on the transect squares (how useful) and some of the unfortunate creatures that had to be sacrificed. The NEA staff were kind enought to assure us that they would take care (carefully dispose) of the net.

Other victims included a blue-spotted ray, a solefish, a spotted scat, tripodfish and many other crabs and fishes that i was unable to photograph (cutting them out and removing the net was of higher priority). It is unfortunate that the first time i get to see so many different kinds of fish (since they’re usually darting about really fast in the water) has to be because of a drift net.

I really don’t see why driftnetting is still legal. Ms Ria mentioned throwing up a research project to students on surveying the life caught in driftnets, which is a pretty good idea as we get to record fishes that are usually too hard to record cos they swim so fast, as well as collect comprehensive data on the species affected by drifnetting, and this may be able to contribute towards an appeal for the ban on drifnetting.

Horrors like these aren’t only seen in documentaries.

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