Catching Ghosts on the Reef with Rendezvous Dive Adventures

Written by on March 10, 2014 in Interviews, Other News, Spotlight

Editor’s Note — This piece continues with our Ocean Organization Spotlight series, which features all kinds of foundations and organizations working to protect the oceans and its inhabitants around the globe.

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Ocean Organization Spotlight: Rendezvous Dive Adventures
By Asta Mail

Peter Mieras.

Peter Mieras. Photo courtesy of Rendezvous Dive Adventure.

It’s early morning in Barkley Sound, British Columbia. A black bear deftly hunts for clams a few feet away from the back deck of the Rendezvous lodge, and Peter Mieras and Kathy Johnson, owners of Rendezvous Dive Adventure, scan the grey ocean for breaching humpback and orca whales from the comfort of their living room.

Even after a three hour boat ride from Port Alberni, BC, the remote yet incredibly cozy Rendezvous lodge is well worth the trip. Peter and Kathy run their independent dive charter resort out of the comfort of their lodge home. Their mission is to share the rich natural scenery and wildlife of Vancouver Island’s Northern coast.

SCUBA diving enthusiasts flock to the lodge every year for a chance to experience the exceptional diving conditions that in Barkely Sound. Locals and foreigners alike jump at the opportunity to get up close and personal with the unique wildlife that characterize the area, including the Giant Pacific Octopus, Spiny Dogfish, and even the elusive Sixgill shark.

Besides providing guests with some of the best diving Vancouver Island has to offer, Peter and Kathy have another mission; to act as caretakers for their unique corner of the world. “We make our living off the ocean in an indirect way. As such we have a moral obligation as well as a business interest in keeping the area as clean, pristine and as healthy as possible.”

Peter certainly lives his philosophy; not only do Rendezvous’ volunteer divers help to conduct lingcod egg mass counts, rockfish and reef surveys with the likes of the Vancouver Aquarium and Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Peter has also contributed his underwater film and photography skills to the outreach programs at the Bamfield Marine Science Center.

“We try to be responsible citizen scientists and support as many projects as we can. Sometimes we can combine [science with our dive trips]. For example, I sometimes collect cetacean sightings for the BC Cetacean Sightings network, but I can also be the first respondent for the BC Marine Mammal Response Network.”

Bird caught in a ghost net.

Bird caught in a ghost net. Photo courtesy of Rendezvous Dive Adventure.

The Rendezvous Crew have set themselves yet another conservation mission; to protect their local reefs from “ghostly” predators lurking in the deep. A number of years ago, Peter and Kathy found an abandoned gill net on one of the reefs they studied. They observed that the net, though no longer being used by a fisherman, was still entangling and killing local reef inhabitants, or “ghost fishing” as it is commonly known.

“We were so appalled by the attitude of that particular fisherman that we got our brains together with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Gillnet Association to become volunteer divers who pull nets off of reefs.”

Peter and Kathy founded The Volunteer Net Removal program along with DFO and the Gillnet Association, and have now removed three full and two partial nets from the reefs near their home.

An important element of the net removal program is the mutually beneficial arrangement Peter and Kathy have made with local gillnetters. The removal program offers these fishermen a way to remove their derelict gear from the marine environment, thereby avoiding possible fines from the DFO and preventing any ghost fishing of marine organisms on the reef.

In exchange for the removal service, Peter teaches the fishermen about the value of local species such as dogfish, and asks that fishermen return these species to the water safely should they be caught as bycatch.

“I’d say the majority of fisherman have accepted this [arrangement], and it’s a bit of an exchange. I think that is the way to work these things out.”

The program has garnered the support of the local fishermen’s and conservation organizations, as well as individual fishermen. The success of their program has been highly publicized, and the program has now been adopted by Nanaimo Dive Outfitters, a dive charter organization based out of Nanaimo, BC.

Peter says there are opportunities for more organizations to take part. “We want to replicate the program as much as possible.”

Diver with a ghost net.

Diver with a ghost net. Photo courtesy of Rendezvous Dive Adventure.

According to Peter, the cooperation of the local fishing community and the fisheries department is the best means to creating a long-term solution for the removal of lost fishing gear. “We realize that most of the gill netters with whom we have a good working relationship are not out there to snag their nets on reefs. They are there to catch the salmon and make a living, and DFO is there to do their job, too,” he explains. “We all have a problem, but how do we solve it?”

“If you stop the eternal finger pointing and you sit down at the table in good faith and honestly work out a solution, you have support from three sides. And guess what? It works like a charm.”

The Gillnet Removal program may truly be a long-term solution to this problem, mainly because it is run mostly on private funding. “We told DFO not to bother about funding. We know how precious dollars are within DFO, and the local field officers are an important link for us,” Peter says.

Instead of relying on yearly government grants, the majority of program is paid for through the proceeds from Rendezvous’ latest underwater film, ‘Kelp and Critters’. The film is a journey through four seasons of marine life in the Pacific Northwest, and is available for purchase through the Rendezvous Dive Adventures website.

Peter believes that the key to keeping the reefs around his home safe is cooperation and willing support from the local fishing and marine community. “It’s a symbiotic relationship,” he says. “In nature symbiotic relationships are the one that work.”

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Asta is a Canadian marine biologist with a Master’s of Professional Science from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Her interest is in citizen science initiative development and marine educational outreach.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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