Fathoms Free

Active solutions to protect our seas

What does Fathoms Free do for nature?

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Fathoms Free is a community group of volunteer conservationists who hold regular events in Cornwall cleaning up beaches and retrieving debris from the sea. Founded by Rob Thompson, it started three years ago as a one-off dive against debris in Lansallos. The event received such positive feedback that Rob decided to organise more regular events, which are attended by divers and non-divers alike. The current project will see the group conduct 12 underwater retrievals and 12 beach cleans by the end of 2018, and attend conservation events to raise awareness of the issue.

The group has steadily grown its volunteer base and developed collaborations with multiple local and national  partners such as Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, Keep Britain Tidy, Clean Cornwall, Friends of Par Beach, World Animal Protection, to name a few, and hold regular consultations with MMO, IFCA and CEFAS. 

The need for the group's activities is obvious to any diver and beach-goer. There is an increasing amount of man-made litter on the Cornwall's coastline and scientific studies have confirmed the problem is getting worse. It is predicted that by 2050, plastic will outweigh the fish in the ocean. This issue is clearly too big for any single agency to handle and requires a collaborative effort. This is why having volunteers doing valuable work on the ground is so important.  In 2015 alone, Fathoms Free retrieved 5282 pieces of marine litter weighing 283kg by a total of 77 divers.

There are two distinctive types of man-made litter the group finds: 

  • food-related litter, and
  • fishing-related items.

Whilst food-related litter can be tackled by raising public awareness and campaigning for top-down changes - such as the hugely successful story of the reduction in shopping carrier bag use - the fishing-related litter is more challenging to address.

Lost and discarded fishing gear - also known as ghost gear - continues to fish, trapping, injuring and killing marine life such as crabs, seals, cetaceans and birds, and depleting fish stocks. Eventually, it breaks down and pollutes the food chain.

Fathoms Free are working with multiple stakeholders, such as Keep Britain Tidy, IFCA, CEFAS, Cornish harbour authorities and the local fishing community, to research the issue and develop sustainable solutions. One such solution is developing a recycling scheme which would see the end-of-life nets turned into products such as kayaks, bodyboards and other items.

The group is an active member of Global Ghost Gear Initiative, and the first group in the UK to have been granted a license to conduct underwater ghost gear retrievals at a number of sites by Marine Management Organisation.




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