Nets leave their mark

Thomas Chamberlin, The Cairns Post 26 Jan 09;

THOUSANDS of Far Northern sea creatures like this endangered olive ridley turtle are lucky to be alive after being tortured by overseas fishermen.

James Cook University researcher Jennie Gilbert said dolphins, dugongs, whales, fish and turtles were just some of the creatures found washed up on beaches with telltale "burn marks".

The animals can be dragged for kilometres out at sea after being tangled up in discarded fishing nets from Indonesian, Japanese and Korean boat crews.

"These nets are indiscriminate killers," Ms Gilbert said.

Napranum land and sea rangers rescued this endangered 35kg breeding-age turtle when it washed up on to the beach after Cyclone Charlotte about two weeks ago.

With cuts to the bone, the turtle was flown by Qantaslink to Cairns late on Friday for surgery, amid fears it may need a flipper amputated.

After successful surgery, which saved all its flippers, the turtle is now under observation at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

Ms Gilbert said dozens of rescues were made each year because the discarded fishing nets, carried by strong currents and cyclones, "became a giant scoop" and picked up hundreds of animals as they approached Australia.

The researcher, who in conjunction with Carpentaria Ghost Nets is writing a thesis on the implications of ghost netting, said one net recently found at Bamaga weighed six tonnes and was 6km long.

"They just drift through the water and kill everything on the way through," Ms Gilbert said.

"We really need to look at what we can do to stop these nets from coming down and I think at the moment we need to show how many animals are injured and killed.

"If you actually go up to the Gulf and walk on the beaches, there are kilometres and kilometres of ghost nets. A lot of them you just find the dead bones in them."

Ms Gilbert said researchers could pinpoint the country and the boat using the nets, but said the fishermen or countries were never prosecuted by the Federal Government.

"Not many people do know about it - we need people to start to jump up and down to say this is ridiculous," she said.

Ms Gilbert hopes her research will eventually lead to prosecutions for ghost-netters.

The Carpentaria Ghost Net program has removed more than 5500 nets in the past three years, with 90 per cent of the 200 types of nets being foreign.

Since 1996, the program has recorded 205 stranded turtles on Cape Arnhem alone.