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Poisoning Paradise: Tackling the Ghost Nets Menace

Poisoning Paradise: Cape York’s Chilli Beach, a recent post in this series, discussed the pollution of a remote Australian beach by plastic rubbish including fishing nets:

Chilli Beach is one of the remotest places in Australia. Fringed with coconut palms and golden sands, it is situated at the end of a very long unsealed road, 700 km north of Cairns, the gateway to the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

…The first thing that hits you is the rubbish washed up on the shore: thongs (the footwear variety also known as flip-flops), household and personal items, fishing nets, and countless containers. A closer inspection also reveals micro-particles in the seaweed on the beach.

It’s easy to blame locals, tourists, the occasional passing ship, or fishing boats. However, pollution is not always caused by them, as will be explored in this final post on the global situation of “plastic oceans”. Nor is it a problem that is being ignored. There is some good news as local communities fight back with innovative methods to highlight and combat this ecological menace across the top end of Australia.


The GhostNets Australia programme has been on-going since 2004. As their website explains: “Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been abandoned at sea, lost accidentally, or deliberately discarded.”  Twenty-two Northern Australian indigenous communities are currently involved in the project. As well as collecting over 7,500 nets and recovering wildlife, they are using art as part of their innovative campaign.

The remoteness of northern Australia restricts access to plastic recycling plants in both other parts of the country and the world. Consequently disposal of the huge amount of rubbish found on these beaches has placed an enormous burden on local refuse systems (mostly landfills). A solution to this dilemma has been through an innovative project where GhostNets Australia, through its large network of renowned fibre artists, facilitates workshops that marry traditional weaving and fibre techniques with these modern materials. The result is fantastic artworks.

“Ghost Nets: Creative Collaborations”, an exhibition at North Queensland’s Cairns Regional Gallery in mid-2012, was reinforced by workshops on weaving techniques at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in September.

Maryanne and Racy are ghost net weavers and ceramic artists from Erub Erwer Meta (Darnley Island Arts Centre) in the Torres Straits. They were interviewed at CIAF 2011:


Another of the Ghost Nets collaborations is with the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation) Tackling Marine Debris study. Methods used include satellite tracking to identify where the nets are, where they come from, who they belong to and their impact on marine life.

Most of the nets are not Australian in origin. Like much of the other pollution on the beaches, a large proportion of the ghosts nets could be stopped at their source where there is deliberate or careless abandonment.

In May 2012, GhostNets Australia was awarded the Sustainable Ocean Innovation Award by Sustainable Oceans International. According to David Lennon, director of Sustainable Oceans International, his organisation “is about creating solutions. There are so many great things happening out there… to find solutions to marine pollution and marine impacts.” In this video, ABC interviews Lennon:


Clearly GhostNets Australia is a tackling this tangled web with great success.

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About The Author(s)



Kevin Rennie

Citizen Journalist

Kevin is a citizen journalist and blogger. He has been active with Th!nk About It and is a Global Voices Online author. He is a retired secondary teacher and trade unionist and has been an Australian Labor Party member since 1972. His interests include the environment, current affairs and the media, politics and human rights. Kevin also blogs about cinema and Australian women writers.

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