Heather Hamza, a ghost fisher for Los Angeles Underwater Explorers, is one of fifty volunteer divers working to remove old fishing nets left in the ocean off the coast of Southern California. The nets she helps to remove entrap and snare fish and marine mammals, causing unnecessary loss of marine life in the Pacific Ocean.
The diving is arduous and the work is risky. Only divers with advanced training are able to handle the grave dangers of restricted vision caused by silt and the contingency of being trapped in one of the abandoned nets while it is being drug to the surface in a lift bag. The volunteer ghost fishers of Los Angeles Underwater Explorers risk their health and lives in hopes of saving fish, dolphins, sea lions, and other marine mammals who fall prey to the lost nets left in the ocean by fishing vessels. If a diver is caught in a net and forced to surface too quickly by a lift bag, he or she may suffer from decompression sickness.
Decompression sickness in divers is caused by changes in pressure during diving. Nitrogen, unlike oxygen, dissolves into the diver’s tissues because it is not used by the body. The further a diver descends and the longer he or she spends at depth, the more nitrogen dissolves into the bodily tissues. If a diver ascends too fast, gas bubbles will form from the excess nitrogen. This sickness can cause fatigue, back pain, abdominal pain, and paralysis. If it is serious enough to affect the brain, it can cause confusion, loss of balance, and even loss of consciousness.
The operators of fishing vessels on the coastal waters of Southern California are encouraged to report lost nets and other gear in order to make the recovery of the lost equipment easier and less hazardous for the divers.
Between May, 2006, and November, 2012, over sixty tons of lost fishing gear was removed from the ocean by the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project. This project hired seasoned commercial SCUBA divers for environmentally safe removal of lost gear.
The ghost fishers of Los Angeles Underwater Explorers donate their time, expertise and years of experience; they are not hired. Even though the divers are volunteers, the dives are extremely expensive. The life saving efforts of the ghost fishers of Los Angeles Underwater Explorers would not be possible without the generous contributions of Jason Hope.