World Thailand: recycled fishing nets to fight against covid-19
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Off the coast of Thailand, a team of divers are trying to unravel a pile of fishing nets wrapped around a fragile reef, an operation intended to protect marine life but also to fight against the coronavirus.
The "ghost nets" thrown by the powerful local fishing industry are a deadly source of plastic pollution, taking in traps turtles or damaging the delicate coral beds found in the Gulf of Thailand.
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If left unchecked, these nets "could remain adrift for decades They capture marine animals or become their food, "Ingpat Pakchairatchakul of the Foundation for Environmental Justice (EJF) told AFP.
Ingpat supports the divers of the Net free seas project, which aims to recover used nets and recycle the plastic they contain.
In this case, the nets will be used to craft face shields and other anti-covid-19 items.
Those responsible for this initiative want to prove that marine protection can be commercially viable in Thailand, one of the largest producers of ocean litter in the world.
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Two years ago, an event sparked public outrage when a baby dugong, a endangered species, christened Mariam, died of an infection caused by plastic discovered in her stomach.
The Thais had spent months following live on the internet the efforts of veterinary teams to try to cure and save the animal.
Mariam is one of more than 20 large dead or injured marine animals found stranded off Thailand's coast every year, according to Chaturathep Khowinthawong, director of the kingdom's marine park management agency.
"Over 70 percent of them are injured by ghost nets and have deep cuts in the body, ”he says.
"When blocked, their chance of survival is less than 10%."
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- "The more I pick up, the more the current sends me back" -
Net Free Seas recovered 15 tonnes of fishing nets left in seawater during its first year of operation.
Globally, FAO estimates that 640,000 tonnes of lost or discarded fishing gear ends up in the oceans each year.
In the Gulf of Thailand, some local fishermen say they support the project.
"It's a win-win situation," Somporn Pantumas, a fisherman from the port city of Rayong, told AFP.
This gives them "a new source of income, the beach and the sea are clean and the fishermen find a sense of camaraderie."
The 59-year-old is one of 700 members of Thailand's fishing communities who resell their used nets to the program, instead of throwing them in the water.
Somporn says that his nets often haul more plastic debris than fish.
And "the more I pick up, the more the current sends me new ones ...", he laments.
The collected nets are sent to be washed, shredded, mixed with other plastics discarded and then melted at Qualy Design, an SME specializing in the molding of recycled household items.
They are used to make face shields, hydroalcoholic gel sprays or table divider screens that have been widely used in restaurants in Bangkok and its region since the start of the pandemic.
The company has even invented little gadgets that allow you to operate an elevator or withdraw money without touching buttons with your fingers and therefore without risk of infection.
Compared to other materials, fishing nets are the most difficult to work with and the most expensive, the company's marketing director, Thosphol Suppametheekulwat, told AFP.
"But we jumped on it because we want to help save the ocean," he says.
dhc / lpm / del / alc
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