Ghost Nets - an ESPS Documentary

Mark your calendars! We’re very excited to announce that on July 13th, CBC will be airing a documentary on Emerald Sea Protection Society called “Ghost Nets”! This documentary - the first of its kind - will take you on a journey behind the scenes to see what it’s really like to do this kind of work. The program follows ESPS founder Bourton Scott and the rest of the team on their journey to tackle the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear (“ghost gear”) and other marine debris on the spectacular coast of British Columbia.

Be sure to tune in on July 13th at 9:00 PM Pacific Time to be among the first to see this groundbreaking hour-long documentary!

You can also watch the full documentary on CBC GEM by clicking here.

World Oceans Day 2019

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On June 9th, 2019 Emerald Sea was out spreading the word about Lost and Abandoned Fishing Gear at the Victoria World Ocean's Day event at Fisherman's Wharf.  The team had multiple events happening throughout the day to keep the public busy and engaged.  Two dives were held at noon and 2 pm where three divers went below the Fisherman's Wharf and returned to the surface with everything from tires, a walking cane, a wallet, many bottles, giant crab trap, a large blue barrel and giant balls of fishing line.  The public then worked with on land Emerald Sea crew to remove any living organisms from the debris and "visit" with the critters for a while in touch tanks before returning them to the sea.

Also on shore was a large tent display with information on Ghost Gear as well as a game and crafts for the children to stay busy while adults chatted about the information and retrieval happening.  Special thanks to the co-organizers of this event Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tour as well as Patagonia for providing prizes for this event.

See some media coverage from the event in the Victoria News here.

Tofino Clean Up Project

Do you know what lies beneath the docks you walk on? The Emerald Sea team sure does!

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We had an absolute blast cleaning below the 1st Street dock in Tofino this past Saturday, March 23rd in a collaborative cleanup effort with Surfrider Pacific Rim and the Ucluelet Aquarium. 

Divers Bourton, Gabe, Ally and Patrick were under the water collecting crab traps, oyster crates, shopping carts, tires, and more, while Gideon was at the surface using the ROV to find hot spots of debris (and entertain the kids).

Loads of volunteers were on hand to pull the debris to the surface. As each item was brought onto the dock, biologists from the Ucluelet Aquarium carefully removed any attached marine species and returned them safely to the sea. 

Finally, Surfrider volunteers sorted and recycled all the materials that had been collected from underneath the dock. A total of 1,294 kg of material was removed - and only 13 kg was sent to landfill, the rest was recycled!

Photo credit: Clover Fedoriuk-Russell

So – what exactly did we find under the dock? 

  • 20 shopping carts

  • 19 tires

  • 3 super sacs of styrofoam

  • 1/2 super sac of glass bottles

  • 3/4 super sac of rope

  • 1 1/2 super sac of plastic 

  • 12 buoys

  • 5 oyster crates

  • 3 crab traps

  • 1 large ball of cable

  • 1 large net

Over 300 marine creatures were removed from these items and returned to the sea (hopefully to more natural habitats!). 

We had an incredible day and it wouldn’t have been possible without the collaboration of such dedicated and hardworking people. We look forward to the next opportunity to work with these wonderful people dedicated to restoring and protecting marine ecosystems!

Pender Island Recovery Part 2

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The recovery of a massive seine net near Pender Island, BC has been a challenging phased project from 2016-2018. The commercial seine net had been lost several decades ago ad discovered by divers, and through the years had attached itself to the ocean floor, significantly impacting the marine ecosystem. 

Strong and erratic currents were among some of the difficulties divers experienced when extracting this giant net from the ocean floor.  The net was found at depths exceeding 100 feet with some points of the net as deep as 140-150 feet which makes it extremely difficult to retrieve without more advanced deep diving equipment.  Multiple boats, cranes and winches were employed along with multiple dives with commercial divers who were needed to recover the net section by section.  

As part of a trans-boundary project in the summer of 2016 we had the pleasure of working with several organizations to continue the process of recovery. These groups included the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, World Animal Protection, Northwest Straits Foundation, Steveston Harbour Authority, Emerald Sea Protection Society, Rendezvous Dive Adventures, Archipelago Marine Research, Orca Spirit Adventures, Aquafil USA and Tsehum Harbour Authority. Approximately 75% of the net was recovered and recycled through Steveston Harbour Authority.

In 2018, we worked with the crew of Providence, a 100 year old fishing vessel turned supply vessel to retrieve another 10-15% of the material after initial difficulty locating the net. Additionally once the net was located recovery was very difficult due to adverse conditions during the project duration. This phase of the project was documented by Monument Creatives and will air on CBC on July 13, 2019 as part of the “Ghost Nets” documentary.

Emerald Sea will return to recover the remaining deep section of net along with any pieces that may have been missed over the last three removal projects.

World Oceans Day - Cleaning up Ucluelet Marina

World Oceans Day is an exciting time for us at the Emerald Sea Protection Society! For the first time, all five directors of the organization came together to complete an abandoned gear recovery project, in collaboration with Ucluelet Elementary School (School District 70), the District of Ucluelet, Ucluelet Aquarium, Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, and Sonbird Refuse and Recycling.

Divers Bourton Scott and Gabe Howells made a splash off of Whiskey Dock in Ucluelet to see what was lurking beneath the surface. What they found was pretty shocking: shopping carts, crab traps, fish net, bottles, a cell phone and even a washer/dryer! An enthusiastic group of kids from Ucluelet Elementary helped sort the debris as and get it prepped for recycling by Sonbird Refuse and Recycling. Staff from the Ucluelet Aquarium was on hand to rescue any marine life that was trapped in the debris and to ensure that any creatures were handled properly and carefully before being released back into the environment.

It was a cold, rainy day (in June!) but everyone had a great time and learned a lot about the marine environment and the impacts of human activity on the local ecosystem.

The next day, ESPS gave a presentation at Ucluelet Elementary which gave a background on the scope of the lost fishing gear/marine debris problem worldwide and also showed a short video of the work that was done the day before. Overall the event was a huge success and we’re looking forward to doing more events like this in the future!

We’d like to thank all of our supporters and partners on this project, and note that his was made possible by a small grant from the Canada 150 Program.

Check out the video below for an overview of the event and to see what we recovered!

Salish Sea Adventures: ambitions for Eco Tourism

A working tug built right here in Vancouver in 1951, Ella was completely restored in 2006

A working tug built right here in Vancouver in 1951, Ella was completely restored in 2006

Funding is always a challenge for any not for profit organization. Our culture values things via capital but it can be difficult raise funds for things that society values, that have benefits which are difficult to see immediate returns from. ESPS works with a near invisible problem of lost fishing gear - though the visible consequences are there it's a challenge to connect the outcomes to the cause in many people's minds.

Since we began the organization we've been committed to exploring different fun raising approaches - today we are announcing the first steps towards a separate organization, Salish Sea Adventures: an eco tourism company operating around the Vancouver area. The company has been founded, and we recently purchased the very beautiful Ella McKenzie - a 1951 restored tug boat. We couldn't be happier with the vessel, which we hope we can configure for small marine tours by spring 2017 - work has begun!

A percentage of all funds raised via this for-profit company will go to funding ESPS and allow us to do the good work of net recovery while those that are paying for the services of Salish Sea Adventures will benefit very directly from the opportunity to swim, paddle-board, hike and explore islands channels and the beautiful coastal areas that British Columbia has to offer. Watch this space!

Evidence of Lost Fishing Gear in BC

By its nature - lost fishing gear is almost always hidden from view under the waves. Identifying the magnitude and location of the problem is one of our greatest challenges. One of the easy methods we have for tracking this problem however is the frequency with which lost nets and materials are washed up on the shore line, though this is inevitably a tiny minority of the overall problem we can at least be sure that where nets are more commonly found on the shoreline, there will be a larger problem nearby.

Below is an example of a lost gill net that found its way onto the shore in Nanaimo BC. The facility where the net was found does not deal with fishing vessels or fishing activities, meaning that the travel for this net between loss and washing ashore is reasonable. Lost fishing gear can be continuously mobile via ocean currents or other means such as vessel entanglement.

Lost gill net among timber piles and rip rap.

Lost gill net among timber piles and rip rap.

This net also appears to have been packaged in a refuse bag, leading us to believe that it had reached the end of its service life and was being prepped for transport to a landfill. Unfortunately the net ended up in the ocean and has been passively fishing ever since. With some closer inspection we identified several marine animals that had been entangled and were killed as a result. 

Being in the inter-tidal zone it also has the potential to continue impacting aquatic life as it spends half of the day underwater as seen in the photos below - and even when above water the potential for impacting wildlife that relies on temporary exposure of mudflats continues. 

ESPS is currently waiting for permission to access this site to remove and properly dispose of this net.

Pender Island Net Recovery

In may, members of the ESPS dive team had a unique opportunity to collaborate as part of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) with several NGO's on a net removal project close to home. Over two days our group went out into the southern waters of the Salish Sea just off of Pender Island to remove a salmon seine net that was lost over 30 years ago. This net, which was approximately 25,000 square metres was draped over an ocean pinnacle at an average depth of 80 feet. Over the years it had entangled countless marine animals as well as destroyed crucial habitat essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

After two days of hard work we recovered over 4,500 pounds of the lost net. Unfortunately even after two removal projects (the Northwest Straits Initiative removed 12,500 square metres of the net in a previous project) pieces of the net still remain on the pinnacle. This project goes to show what we are up against, one lost net can potentially take several challenging and dangerous days to recover...its a dirty job but someone has to do it!

ESPS Working with Vancouver Aquarium at the International Fishackathon

Last weekend saw the international fishackathon take place at 43 locations around the world, including Vancouver Aquarium. The event is US State department initiative to support the innovative application of technology to combat issues relating to marine ecology and sustainability - developers (those who write and develop software) and researchers collaborate to attempt to provide a solution to one of 9 problem statements shared by every location around the world.

Both Bourton Scott and Gideon Jones from ESPS were invited to be involved in the weekend as mentors, judges and advice givers to help provide additional information about the context in which tools and applications would be used.

Two of the nine problem statements related to abandoned fishing gear - thanks to the GGGI who had submitted these for consideration, we were excited to see the possible tools that could be helpful in mapping the distribution of the gear.


9 problems, 14 teams of coders 48 hours to get it done


As part of the judging team all of us at ESPS were incredibly impressed with the solutions that the various teams came up with to a wide range of issues in such a short time. The winning group created an app for android and iOS that allows the size of any fish to be measured by a smartphone taking a picture of it. This was a great response to the problem that the team chose to take on, which was to support both fishers and researchers in the field when surveying their catches. With a global database, location and species matching integrated into the application - while simple in purpose the possibilities for big data analysis of fish populations globally are fantastic.


The Global Ghost Gear Initiative were lucky to have 2 problem statements included in the options available for consideration by the hackers


Third place went to a team that developed an app that allowed anyone from recreational users to professional surveyors to report abandoned fishing gear to a global database. The app allows people to not only use GPS to mark the area they found the gear, but walks them through identification of the different features of net types or crab pots. ESPS is looking forward to working with this team to integrate the app into a web based version that we'll host on our website, as well as distributing the mobile app to communities around BC. Congratulations to all who took part and thanks again to Vancouver Aquarium for inviting us along for the fun.

The team that worked on the ghost gear location app is awarded third place, presented by Jonathan Hultquist (Vancouver Aquarium) and Gideon Jones (ESPS)

The team that worked on the ghost gear location app is awarded third place, presented by Jonathan Hultquist (Vancouver Aquarium) and Gideon Jones (ESPS)