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Ghost Net Art: Stopping the Slaughter

By: Dr Scott Mitchell, Category: Science, Date: 27 Nov 2013

Imagine a mindless killing machine half the size of Botany Bay. It's not science fiction but reality for some places in the Torres Strait.

Ghost nets (fishing nets abandoned or lost from sailing vessels) are known to kill as many as 200 species of marine animal and bird as they float through the water. Individual pieces of net more than 6km long have been found in the waters off northern Australia.

Aboriginal communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Torres Strait are leading the way in dealing with ghost net, removing it from beaches through their Caring for Country and Ranger programs. In recent years artists have also got involved, experimenting with how to use the net to make useful and beautiful objects.

They have two aims, the first of which is to make the waste net more valuable and increase the incentive to remove it from the water (ghost net was formerly dumped or burned after being retrieved). The second aim is to raise awareness, through their art, of ghost net as an environmental issue.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to travel to Darnley Island in Torres Strait to commission Dauma and Garom, a major ghost net sculpture for the Museum. My biggest surprise was seeing how enthusiastically ghost net has been adopted as a medium – whether for use in sculpture, jewlery, tapestries, woven bags and baskets, or incorporated into ceramic artworks, just to name a few. It was hard to find anything the artists were doing that didn’t contain or reference ghost net in some way.

This film (above) will give you some idea why.