The Ghost of the Baltic Sea

The Ghost of the Baltic Sea is a documentary on discarded fishing nets made by the WWF.

Firstly, I’m not gonna get into anything about the nets until I say this, just coz it’s a WWF documentary, does that mean you need your logo in every fucking shot? The entire film is about a WWF project, half the talking heads are WWF workers, is it absolutely necessary to have everyone in their WWF branded gear? Making sure the logo’s visible on the back, front, and sides? Ugh WWF, you’re the worst. (They kinda are, if you ever hear calls to decolonise conservation, they usually top lists of well dodgy shit.)

Ok, on to the actual contents of the documentary. During the course of fishing, nets will occasionally snag, break, or get lost. Because they are made of plastic, they don’t biodegrade, and continue trapping marine life. Terrible for the environment, the WWF set up a project with Poland, Norway and others who have a coast in the Baltic Sea, to start mapping where these lost nets are, retrieving them and recycling them.

This might sound easier than it is. A net is deliberately made to be lightweight and close to undetectable in the water. After all, you want fish to swim into it, not go, Shit! Nearly swam into a massive thing in my way. So it can be difficult to show up on something like radar.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, we’re not looking for a few stray, errant nets. There’s about 800 tonnes of ghost nets in the Baltic Sea. And they tend to be concentrated around old shipwrecks, where there are a lot of sharp edges to snag and gather nets. So in one mission, they were able to pull up a 1 ton pyramid of nets.

With the nets being wrapped around shipwrecks, it means when this waste is retrieved, it is full of really valuable relics. So the project also works with a maritime antiquities expert, to see about preserving the items for museum use. Which is pretty cool, and gives a cultural history benefit to the project as well as an ecological one.

It’s obviously a good cause, so I wondered why it didn’t sit entirely right with me, apart from the obnoxiously ubiquitous branding. I suppose I just thought about what the sabs would say, that this is tidying up around the edges of the problem. That industrial fishing is part of the food system killing our planet, and enabling it shouldn’t be the goal. It had that feel that greenwashing ads have, where they boast that because they’ve made their practice eco-friendly, you can consume as much of it as you like. I’m always suspicious when the answer to a problem is ‘more’.

It is good to clear the Baltic Sea, and every sea, of dangerous plastics. And this is achieving its aims because it has buy-in from the fishing industry. And that wouldn’t be the case if you were just digging your heels in, instead of working with them. So it’s a good thing overall.

A interesting documentary, that shines a light on an overlooked problem, but isn’t given to a great deal of analysis.

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