Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Front Page - BY SALLY McMULLEN PHO­TOGRAPHED BY ARUNAS

EV­ERY DAY HUN­DREDS of dis­carded fish­ing nets drift through Pacific wa­ters, twist­ing and turn­ing with the cur­rents. They stretch from sev­eral me­tres to 6km; their plas­tic fi­bres in­dis­crim­i­nately trap­ping any ma­rine life that gets in the way. These lethal dam­aged or aban­doned “ghost nets”

Across north­ern Aus­tralia, a ma­rine blight is be­ing trans­formed into bright in­dige­nous art

can, it’s es­ti­mated, take up to 600 years to de­cay. Many even­tu­ally wash up on the beaches of north­ern Aus­tralia.

Twelve years ago, former prawn trawler skip­per Riki Gunn set about es­tab­lish­ing a ma­rine con­ser­va­tion group to pa­trol the beaches, pick up

the nets and free en­tan­gled crea­tures. To­day in­dige­nous rangers from 40 dif­fer­ent clan groups reg­u­larly scour 3000km of iso­lated coast­line res­cu­ing en­dan­gered tur­tles, du­gongs and other ma­rine life for GhostNets Aus­tralia.

Within months of the rangers first be­gin­ning their work, piles of net­ting built up. With the help of Queens­land artist Sue Ryan, who had been work­ing with in­dige­nous artists around Lock­hart River, Gunn set out to find so­lu­tions to help dis­pose of them. Ideas poured in through a na­tional com­pe­ti­tion – to turn the plas­tic fi­bres into ev­ery­thing from gui­tar straps to bags and art in­stal­la­tions – and soon Ryan was or­gan­is­ing craft work­shops with the Ghost Net Art Project.

Ryan couldn’t help but marvel at the va­ri­ety of colours, weaves and thick­nesses of the fi­bres. “I was re­ally ex­cited be­cause it was com­pletely dif­fer­ent from any­thing I’d ever worked with,” she says. “It was also a great way of rais­ing aware­ness about the ghost nets.”

To­day Ryan works with com­mu­ni­ties from the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, around the Gulf of Car­pen­taria and

through the Tor­res Strait Is­lands to turn these float­ing walls of deadly mesh – and other washed-up ma­te­ri­als such as flip-flops, plas­tic garbage and glass – into use­ful and beau­ti­ful things.

Em­ploy­ing both mod­ern and tra­di­tional tech­niques, artists weave, felt, coil and sew ev­ery­thing from bas­kets, dol ls and sculp­tures to hats and jew­ellery. Large and small sculp­tures of colour­ful fish or bar­na­cle-en­crusted whales are prov­ing par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful in alert­ing the pub­lic to the dan­gers of ghost nets. “It’s mag­i­cal re­ally,” says Ryan, “to see peo­ple com­ing to­gether to make art out of an en­vi­ron­men­tal hazard.”

Then she pauses and adds: “It’s the one project where you want the medium to run out.”

Artist Sue Ryan (above left) helps oth­ers turn washed-up rub­bish into ob­jects of beauty

Di­a­mond Scale Mul­let by Lyn­nette Grif­fiths started out as de­bris from com­mer­cial fish­ing

Erub Is­land’s Florence Gutchen works on large ghost-net sculp­tures

The nets drift in on mon­soonal and trade wind cur­rents and tides from across the re­gion

Zoe and Stan by Zoe de Jer­sey

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