Devon and Cornwall conservationists join forces
to form Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative

Blog by Natallia Paliakova

A new initiative which aims to clean up and protect the coastal habitats in Torbay, Devon, is being launched this Sunday 27 August 2017 in Brixham, formed by the following organisations: Fathoms Free, Tide, Living Coasts, Community Seagrass Initiative, Marine Management Organisation, Torbay Harbour Office, Torbay Council, Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, Nautilus Dive Charters and British Divers Marine Life Rescue. Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative is a unique partnership between environmental charities, local authorities and commercial operators, each bringing their own perspective and capabilities, united in their passion for protecting the environment from the issues it faces today. Its main objective is to prevent and reduce marine litter pollution in Torbay and its impact on marine organisms, habitats, public health and safety as well as reduce the socioeconomic costs it causes.

There are several issues the Initiative partners will focus on: abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, harmful fishing practices and littering are some of them.

Lost or discarded net, lines and pots, also known as ghost gear, is dangerous to marine life such as seals, whales and porpoises, marine birds and shellfish that can become entangled or caught, causing infections, constrictions and death.

Fishing and angling gear is often unavoidably lost and enters the ocean through accident or poor conditions potentially remaining there for centuries. It can have serious implications for the welfare of marine animals, fisher safety, livelihoods and biodiversity.

In a similar vein, litter discarded or blown into the ocean poses a threat to marine animals which mistake it for food and face malnutrition, starvation and slow death from ingesting it. Plastics break into tiny pieces, called microplastics, and eventually enter the food chain by being ingested by fish and shellfish. Litter turns pristine beautiful coasts into unsightly dumping grounds and spoils the enjoyment of beach- and ocean-users, thus harming the local community and tourism.

The initiative will adopt a multi-faceted approach to tackling the issues. The project partners will aim to remove litter from the marine environment where practical and feasible, by organising ghost gear retrieval dives and from the coastal area through beach and coastal cleans in and around Torbay. They will work towards enhancing knowledge and awareness of marine litter, by raising awareness and producing educational materials and opportunities to engage with local communities. Marine users will be supported in litter reduction by highlighting and promoting use of environmentally friendly alternatives, sustainable practices and recycling options.


Hope’s Nose ghost gear retrieval Sat 19th Aug 2017

The initiative had its first in the series of planned clean-up events take place last Saturday 19 August 2017 on Hope’s Nose, a popular angling spot off Torquay. Volunteer divers from Fathoms Free, supported by Warwick Saunders of Nautilus Dive Charters and his vessel Argonaut, conducted 2 ghost gear retrieval dives during which they retrieved a ton sack of matted monofilament line, hooks, lead weights and broken fishing rods, as well as general rubbish such as bottles and cans. The issue of angling gear on Hope’s Nose, first spotted and highlighted by Peter Glanvill, has been persisting for decades. As a result, a thick carpet of fishing line has accumulated on the sea floor, trapping marine life and snagging more angling gear. Numerous marine animals have been spotted trapped by the ghost gear, such as a cat shark, common crabs, spider crabs and lobsters. Many of them were freed by the divers. The site has a complex topography, with underwater boulders that also snag fishing line. Further dives will be organised to lift the remaining ghost gear, which will make snagging less likely. As a preventative measure against future gear loss, a map of the underwater area will be produced to aid fishermen not familiar with the site.

Warwick Saunders – Owner and Skipper of the Dive Charter Boat Argonaut based in Brixham, explains:

“For many, the sea and coastal environment is ‘out of sight and mind’ most of the time.   As an active SCUBA diver, dive instructor and charter boat skipper, I have been very lucky in taking great pleasure from living, working and enjoying my leisure time beside, on and in the sea for the last 30 years.

‘Take only memories and pictures, Leave only bubbles and footprints’ is the divers’ ‘Country Code’ – I am part of this exciting new collaborative project to occasionally give something back to the wonderful local coastal environment of Torbay by encouraging others to adopt and then ‘Keep to the Code’.”

The event was also attended by Duncan Kenny from conservation charity Tide, who was able to engage with the anglers and public on Hope’s Nose, and took photographs of the activities and the area. Being present on both land and sea give the initiative an advantage which will allow it to approach issues at multiple angles for a maximum impact.

The initiative aims to engage and work in partnership with the local fishing and angling communities and other stakeholders. We recognise that angling is one of the most sustainable ways of fishing, and will support and promote sustainable, eco-friendly practices. Fathoms Free have been working with harbour authorities and fishermen in Cornwall to facilitate convenient, affordable recycling of end-of-life fishing gear, and reporting lost gear which divers may be able to recover and return to the owner free of charge. The initiative hopes to establish similar partnerships in Torbay.

Fathoms Free have been able to increasingly reuse and recycle some of the recovered ghost gear and litter. Some has been transformed into works of art such as their mascot, Casper the Cormorant, and some will be recycled to return to the sea as ocean kayaks, bodyboards and other exciting products, thus creating a circular economy and aiding further conservation efforts in the area.

Launch of Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative at Brixham Sunday 27th August 2017

Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative was officially launched on Sunday 27th August at the Old Fish Market in Brixham. The weather was on our side: the clear blue sky and warm sunshine meant the town centre was busy with holiday makers exploring the town and local residents out on a stroll. A pod of dolphins that appeared in the harbour initially stole the public’s attention; eventually it moved on, spooked by a seal, and this is when we got our chance to engage with the public.

In the shade of the Old Fish Market canopy, passers-by were able to chat to Clare (Living Coasts), Simon (Torbay Harbour Office), Warwick (Nautilus Dive Charters), Kate (BDMLR), Duncan (Tide) and Peter Glanville who flagged up the issue at Hope’s Nose in the first instance. The interpretational materials on the stand included leaflets with helpful tips on sustainable fishing and marine recreation, WiSe code of conduct for boat operators and an educational book Sullie the Seagull for kids.

Nearby, Fathoms Free volunteers Zillah, Rob and Natallia hand sorted the ghost gear retrieved from Hope’s Nose a week before in full view of the public. This raised a lot of interest from the passers-by – people were shocked to see the extent of the problem and wanted to know more! We had a few conversations with local anglers and fishermen who, on learning about our project, expressed support for our work and donated towards further clean ups. Another group who expressed interest was local divers, one of whom lent us a hand sorting the smelly matted pile of monofilament line. A fair few local residents signed up as volunteers for the initiative.

Jess from the Marine Management Organisation engaged young visitors in fun learning, by challenging them to untangle a ball of recovered rope, and to use it to decorate Dugal the Marine Monster. Dugal, Casper the Cormorant, and a few other pieces of marine debris art were on show as examples of how seemingly useless litter can be up-cycled for art and awareness purposes

Everyone at Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative was absolutely delighted with the phenomenal response to its first public engagement event. We are looking forward to announcing further clean-up and awareness events and to give Torbay residents an opportunity to volunteer to help protect this stunning coast. Please like and share our Facebook page ( to keep up to date with news and events and to spread awareness of the initiative.

Media links:

Video from the launch event, 27 Aug 2017, Brixham:

Devon Live Facebook – interview with Duncan Kenny (Tide) on Hope’s Nose 25.08.2017:

Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative – more photos and updates:

Devon Live – article about the Hope’s Nose retrieval dive 22.08.2017:

Fathoms Free work featured on BBC Countryfile and BBC Spotlight:

11 June 2017
BBC Countryfile – Ghost Gear

08 April 2017 – Rhib Launch day of “Casper” in Penzance
BBC Radio Cornwall
BBC One Spotlight (evening news)

Additional photos:

Warwick Saunders – Owner and Skipper of the Dive Charter Boat Argonaut based in Brixham