I got a call at about 4pm on Saturday, the 28th of July. Someone familiar with the work of the Ocean Defenders Alliance (ODA) had just informed one of our divers about a net they saw on the wreck of a sunken boat named Olympic. Importantly, they had seen the deadly nets hanging on Olympic and posing a threat to ocean life just a few days earlier! The caller said it was a large section of gill net...and we all know how deadly those gill nets can be.
Monofilament nets are cheap to produce and come in a wide range of diameters, so they are a favorite of commercial fishing operations. However, they are barely visible and pose a major hazard to wildlife—especially when abandoned. In fact, ODA has an unfortunate familiarity with these killing systems: several years ago some of our volunteer divers came across one of these nets very near the Olympic. Although we responded as quickly as possible, by the time we reached the net it had already captured and killed 21 sea lions. Remember, that is just what we found. Other animals are caught, killed, and either eaten by other marine life or freed by currents, so it is nearly impossible to gage the true level of destruction.
So, not wanting to have another scenario like that on our hands, I quickly called several of our long time defenders and within a few hours had lined up a crew 5 divers and 2 deck hands to investigate the next morning.
We met at 8am and soon departed into slightly rough seas; it was not too bad, but something to keep our eyes on. The Olympic is just a few miles from the LA Harbor Lighthouse. By the time we got there, the seas were much better, although it was very overcast and the water didn't look at all inviting. The team donned their gear and headed down to 100 feet.
At that depth you don't have much time to look around, 20 minutes tops. So they quickly found the wreck and proceeded to scan for a large net. The visibility was really good (roughly 40 feet), so they had optimal conditions to see for a long distance. But, they didn't find anything other than lots of interesting floating critters in mid water. Walter Marti, our underwater videographer, reported seeing several large Lingcod and a huge cabazon (a type of rockfish).
They had a surface interval (regulated break above the water) of an hour and a half and then descended again. By this time the sun was shining and our dedicated divers were determined to find that net. Unfortunately, after searching for a total of 35 minutes, they determined that it wasn't there. They were able to traverse the entire wreck, no small feat given that it is about 250 feet long, but found nothing.
As fire fighters and police know all too well, sometimes there are false alarms—or circumstances simply change between the time you get the call and the time you can respond. In this case, given that we learned of this on a Saturday afternoon, I am super proud to be associated with a team of people that so quickly and selflessly agreed to give up their Sunday morning in defense of the oceans. Although the net was no longer on site, we proved once more what our team is capable of.
So, we headed for home about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, slightly frustrated but encouraged that there was no new net on the site. That is great news for the animals that call this wreck home, and for the many transitory animals (such as the sea lions) that move through that area on a regular basis. We are concerned that the net may still be floating and presenting a hazard to marine life, but we have done—and will continue to do—everything within our power to help.
The best thing about this day was how quickly people mobilized to get rid of this reported death trap. Just 16 hours after I started making calls for volunteers, we were on site and prepared for the worst. Thanks to Billy Arcila, Beth Deck, Jeff Connor, John Krieger, Al Laubenstein, Bill Maley, and Walter Marti for not hesitating to get out as quickly as we could and get to work. What a team!