On the morning of Saturday, March 9, 2019, Underwater Explorers was alerted by local diver & dive professional Roger Hoyle who was doing a voluntary beach clean with his family at Chesil Cove. They had spotted a Gannet entangled in line and net, trying to escape from a raft of Ghost Fishing debris.
Ghost fishing refers to lost, discarded, swept away or even deliberately dumped nets, lines, traps and other man-made contraptions, mainly commercial fishing equipment no longer in use which continues to “fish”, capture and kill wildlife – a genuine menace to our oceans.
Taking a break from work I met Roger on site who showed me the “raft” of pollution and Gannet in the middle of it struggling to get out. Conditions were not good, waves were breaking hard and the raft was too far out to do anything. I could only capture what was happening on video. I shared it through the Chesil Beach community and regional pages I run, as well as through our Underwater Explorers page monitored by divers.
The first video of the day showing the pollution rafts and Gannet struggling to get out got about 30K views and feedback from all around the world.
It was a clear example of the menace of Ghost Fishing. Also a way to get anyone at the beach to keep an eye out for the raft. We feared the Gannet would die when the pollution finally touched shore, covered in swell. Wanting to be there to assist.
More than 15 thousand people across the UK and as far away as Australia watched the video and messages of concern and support started to mount. Several hours later I went to the beach to check again, seeing the conditions had improved somewhat and with turning tide the “raft” was now in front of the promenade but still far out. I had already alerted wildlife activists and conservationists Derek Davey and Frances Ponting who were on their way. I had also messaged RSPCA.
While on the beach, Adrian Davies of Weymouth Fossil Hunters and his two sons turned up having seen the first video, with long parachute cord, to try to pull the raft in and rescue the Gannet.
Thanks to Adrian being there, I rushed back, picked up my gear, returned to the beach with surface support and took hold of one end of the cord as he held the other and went in. The cord was my tether as well as a line we could use to pull the raft in if I could not rescue the Gannet with the various cutters I had in my pocket.
By then the Gannet had been able to free its legs but this time ended up with net wrapped around the bottom of its neck. It was literally like a noose, near strangling it having twisted around the neck and turned tight. Adrian, his sons and Derek were on the beach as I slowly untangled the noose.
Not once did the Gannet even attempt to peck me. Just the opposite, it extended its neck, using wings to balance itself, patiently letting me work to release it, eyes looking at me as if it knew freedom was around the corner.
I swear it knew we were there to help.
Once released it came ashore while I crawled out of the swell. Derek, who has saved hundreds of birds off the Cove and elsewhere over many years, a voluntary activist and conservationist, had already prepared for the next stage from purpose-made protective box to the TLC the Gannet would require overnight. Frances was waiting with her own rescue gear on the road. With Adrian and sons, it was true team work and community support.
Sunday morning was good news for all of us, with viewers of the entanglement and rescue having exceeded 30K via various pages and interest in it all around the world, as the Gannet was walking and despite being weak, eating too. Derek organised for RSPCA to come and collect it for professional care until it could go back in the wild. I hear you think it’s just a bird, but every life matters where we are the ones responsible to slowly and methodically killing this planet. At least to us. Read the story as it appeared in the Dorset Echo.
See how Gordon the Gannet stepped into freedom in the photos below. out Follow our environmental reports and updates on https://www.facebook.com/chesilcoveguardians and our daily Chesil Beach photo updates on https://www.facebook.com/diveportland