Net Missions: Collecting Ghost Gear From Bedruthan Steps
RHIANNA: MY FIRST FISHING NET EXTRACTION EXPERIENCE WITH WATERHAUL
As the newbie on the team, I wanted to document my first net extraction. Witnessing the work that the team put into their missions was incredible to be a part of.
We waited for a dry day, we checked for low tide, we choose a beach. Sometimes, the guys head out on the advice of locals who have spotted nets wedged between rocks. Mostly, though, they scour the local beaches for trapped nets, and plan a day when they can come back to collect them.
On This day we headed out to Bedruthan Steps in Newquay. The cliffs are breathtakingly vast, the ocean as vibrant as an oil painting. We all marveled at how lucky we were to live somewhere so beautiful.
The trek down was a little perilous - we had to take the long route down. Due to a rock fall, the main access has been blocked off, so the beach was empty of people. But sadly, not of waste.
When we got there, we began to see signs of debris almost everywhere. Splashes of blue twisted between boulders in the distance. Fragments of torn rope on the sand. Bundles of rope trapped beneath the rocks. We knew this would be a long day for us, but this is why we were here.
We started off in the first cove. After about an hour, we had almost filled our first bag. Keeping an eye on the tide, we had to work quickly and move on to the next cove. It became clear fairly early on that we wouldn't finish today, we just had to make the biggest difference possible. I suppose this is a great analogy for the whole climate crisis - and a reminder to never give up trying, because even the smallest of efforts are important.
We split up into teams and took different parts of the beach. One of us came across a large net trapped between four large boulders. The net was huge - if I had to take a guess, I would say it have covered a small lorry. But the waves had entangled it into a long twisted mass, resembling a giant shoelace the width of a tree trunk. We took turns sawing away at it with our Waterhaul knives to dismantle it into sections, and maneuvered the smaller rocks to pull it free. Chunks of the rope - and many of the nets we encountered that day - were sandwiched between boulders larger than us - and impossible to move. But we were persistent.
After about an hour, we had managed to free the majority of it - a victory, and a relief for us all. Seeing it pull free was like nothing I had experienced before. I felt energised, the kind of feeling you get after winning a game, or taking a run. Harry mentioned to me at the time that the combination of fresh air while taking positive steps to protect the environment actually has huge benefits for mental health. After this experience, I can personally vouch for this. I felt amazing.
" It became clear fairly early on that we wouldn't finish today, we just had to make the biggest difference possible. I suppose this is a great analogy for the whole climate crisis - and a reminder to never give up trying, because even the smallest of efforts are important."
Recycled Ocean Plastic Products
On the flip side, one issue we encountered was that the entangled, plastic fishing line has weaved itself between mussels and crustaceans on the rocks. Dismantling it would mean damaging and killing these creatures, so sometimes we had to make the tough choice to leave some of it, rather than taking a life to save another. But the less entangled ones pose the deadliest threat. They just sit there, between the rocks, waiting to entangle something in their grasp - and are too often successful. It's tragedies like this that spur us on, even when we feel tired, or the mountain of waste feels too tall to climb.
After about 4 hours, we called it a day. We all clambered through crevices with the bags to get back to the cliff that we descended. I thought the net extraction was tough, but the hardest part was dragging the bags filled with nets back along the beach and up the cliff face. The walk down had been difficult enough, but with the bags - almost impossible.
Before we attempted the climb, we stopped for half an hour to have some lunch. Sitting on the sand, watching the waves and catching our breath, was the one of the best parts of the day. It allowed me to take the time to appreciate the coastline that these guys are trying so hard to save.
There was no easy way to ascend the cliffs - that much was obvious. Two of the guys managed to shoulder the bags and started walking. The bags were almost impossible to carry between two people, so I marvelled - not for the first time - at the time and effort these guys put into their work. The sun beat down us as we trudged up the cliff, and when we finally got to the top, the volunteer bag carriers looked exhausted. But they didn't complain. They simply looked out at the wonderful view in front of them with a smile, and decided to take a photo to commemorate the day.
We took it in turns carrying the bags back to the cars - another long walk through a farmer's field - and once we were done, we were ready for a lie down! But seeing the nets loaded into the boot of the car was so satisfying, and I realised why they keep coming back, time and time again.
To some, it might seem futile work - spending all day extracting nets, and the next day, new ones have appeared. But we think ourselves lucky. We get to spend time on our beautiful beaches, listening to the sound of the ocean calling out to us, as we work hard to save it.
And at the end of the day, looking back out at that horizon, bags of nets in hand, is the most fulfilling feeling. We know we can't extract every net on our coastline, but the ones we do make a huge difference. Even if we save one life out there, it's enough. And that's what keeps us going.
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