We were recently enjoying a beautiful afternoon on Maui waters and motoring back from a couple of wonderful scuba dives (the Stonewall Drift Dive, Mantas!, and the Carthaginian Wreck Dive) when the crew spotted some debris floating on the surface. As we neared the debris, we could see that there were some floats and netting attached to what appeared to be some type of transmitter device.
Rob, one of the boat’s crew, entered the water with his snorkel gear and determined that the net extended down about 40’ where it had attached to the coral reef. At that point, Captain Don instructed Rob, and volunteer John, to don scuba gear and descend with a lift bag to carefully remove the netting from the reef and bring the debris on board the Diamond.
I threw on my snorkel equipment, grabbed a camera from my friend Karen and jumped in as well. I swam up to the floating mass as Rob and John descended. I immediately noticed many small fish swimming around the netting. Most of them appeared to be juvenile Sergeant Major Damselfish. There were also many tiny crabs moving around on the top of the netting, as well as underwater.
The mass was composed of a couple of large bamboo poles, several yellow floats, a great deal of netting, several ropes, and a white globe-like item with a couple of photovoltaic cells inside. This appeared to be a transmitter. The globe had the word Ariette hand-lettered on it.
Rob and John carefully removed the netting from the coral reef 40 feet below and brought it to the surface. The crew onboard lifted the debris out of the water and onto the deck. Several divers and I began picking up live fish, crabs, and tiny shrimp off the debris and putting them into a bucket of seawater, before ultimately returning them to the ocean. We had to carefully cut away chunks of netting to get to some animals that were embedded.
We then headed back to Maalaea Harbor where Captain Don contacted Ed Lyman who is the Resource Protection Manager/Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Ed came to the Harbor and collected the debris.
Ed informed us that it was believed that a whale had already been entangled in this debris. Turns out that Ariette is a ship out of Malta – a group of islands in the center of the Mediterranean!
The debris is actually a FAD, a Fish Aggregating Device. These are mainly used by fishermen to create a habitat for fish, which are then caught in giant nets. Tuna are the intended catch, but everything is taken. Tens of thousands (this is probably conservative) of FADs are deployed into the open ocean every year. Fish populations are being decimated, entanglements of whales and other animals occur, and marine hazards for boats and ships are created. To learn more about the problems and dangers with FADS check out this video by Greenpeace.
Ed Lyman says, “Entanglement is one of the principle human-caused threats to large whales. It can restrict the animals’ movements resulting in drowning, the inability to feed, and/or increase risk of ship strikes. Entanglements can also result in significant physical trauma and systemic infections. It is estimated that over 300,000 whales fall victim to entanglements worldwide each year. Mahalo to Maui Dreams Dive Company, and the captain and crew of their vessel, Maui Diamond II, for their continued assistance in helping protect humpback whales and their environment, by helping reduce entanglement threat.”
To learn more about man-made threats to the ocean and how you can help protect it, visit the Project Aware site.
To get involved here on Maui with whale entanglement issues contact:
Edward Lyman, Resource Protection Manager/Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator
T: (808) 879-2818 x37 | F: (808) 874-3815 | C: (808) 264-8023 | E:Ed.email@example.com
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
726 S. Kihei Rd, Kihei, HI 96753
Mahalo to everyone who helped that day!