Divers on a mission in Myanmar

KAWTHAUNG, Myanmar, 22 May 2019: Volunteer divers from around the world are clearing disused fishing nets, sometimes called ghost nets, from the coral reefs in Myanmar’s Mergui archipelago.

Ghost nets (ALDFG or abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear) become entangled in rocks and reefs, ultimately killing fish and other marine life and suffocating coral.

“In 2009, the United Nations estimated that 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear were littering the world’s oceans,” said Marcelo Guimaraes, a marine biologist working for Awei Pila resort, which hosted the expedition.

“Most of the nets are made of nylon and will not biodegrade for the next 600 years. These are the silent killers of our ocean marine life and we must do something about it.”

Last week, nine divers and five surface support crew members from Brazil, Sweden, Lithuania and Romania – set out from Awei Pila on the island of Kyun Pila in the heart of the archipelago, which is home to some 800 islands and atolls.

Within four days, the divers recovered around 300 kilograms of ALDFG from the surrounding reefs at depths of up to 25 metres.

The team was led by Anuar Abdullah, the founder of Ocean Quest Global, a Southeast Asia-based organisation dedicated to the protection and rehabilitation of coral reefs.

The Awei Pila initiative follows closely on the heels of a similar ghost net clearance campaign in the Mergui archipelago by the Myanmar Ocean Project. Guimaraes says plans are in place for both teams to cooperate in a joint effort to clear more fishing gear from the sea in September or October.

Awei Pila is one of a handful of resorts or hotels in the archipelago, which only in recent years opened to tourism.

A member of the Yangon-based Memories Group and partnered with yachting charter firm Burma Boating, Awei Pila’s general manager Steffen Kroehl claims the goal of his resort is to create “minimum impact on a pristine environment.”

Awei Pila is part of the Memories Group that owns and operates travel companies and resorts in Myanmar, including hot-air balloon adventures, and sightseeing tours.