Most of my dives start and finish on the edge of a rock platform. Many prefer boat diving, but my propensity for seasickness makes that option less than appealing.
Despite this preference for there is one aspect of shore diving that I really don’t like, and that’s the risk of getting caught up in discarded fishing gear. It’s not a matter of getting ‘hooked’, but rather tangled in all of the fishing line that ends up draped across the reef. Kelp covered reefs are particularly bad for snagging line, and even worse the fronds make it hard to see the line.
I’ve swum into fishing line several times, mostly at night, and it’s very disconcerting to find yourself anchored to the reef. Fortunately most tangles can be resolved with a bit of judicious reversing. If not the only option is to cut the monofilament, the real reason for carrying a knife underwater! A few years ago braided line started to appear on Sydney reefs, but thankfully it hasn’t been widely adopted by rock fishermen. The idea of being caught in unbreakable line isn’t pleasant.
The simple fact is that fishing line gets snagged on near shore reefs and there isn’t a lot that anglers can do to retrieve the lost line. Not a great situation. In common with other divers I try to recover any line I see underwater. The upshot is that I have very personal reasons for disliking discarded fishing line.
This summer provided two additional reasons for my distaste for fishing line. One was in the form of a Eastern Curlew I photographed at Lake Illawarra. Curlew are very skittish, however this one let me get unusually close, and when it did move only flew a short distance before landing. One leg trailed awkwardly behind the flying bird. Later, reviewing the image on the computer, I saw the fishing line around the leg. The flesh below was grotesquely swollen and it was obvious the bird was going to loose the foot.
It is possible that the Eastern Curlew would survive the trauma of losing a limb. Unfortunately, even if the wound healed, it is doubtful that it would feed well enough to fly back to the northern hemisphere, effectively removing it from the breeding population.
The curlew’s situation was especially disturbing considering the broader scale threats faced by this endangered species, notably the loss of wetlands along its migratory route through south east Asia. Even so I probably wouldn’t be writing about the incident if it wasn’t for an even more disturbing wildlife encounter a few days later.
That second incident started with a Kelp Gull on a Sydney beach. There was something strange about the bird’s stance- it stood very low, almost as though its’ feet were sunk into the sand. As I approached it took to the air, displaying two legs that ended in stumps rather than feet.
The bird appeared healthy. I can only imagine that it lost one leg to fishing line and adapted to the handicap before suffering a similar injury on the second foot.
It was a sobering reminder that fishing line is just as dangerous at the edge of lakes, rivers and beaches as it is underwater. The really disappointing fact is that, unlike the deeper tangles, there is little excuse for discarding broken line in the shallows. Taking a moment to collect such line would avoid this cruel fate for local wildlife. This ‘collateral’ damage to seabirds, waders and other wildlife is avoidable and unacceptable.