Baltic Sea Heritage Rescue Project

By Sabine Kerkau

The fight against ghost nets on the deep wrecks of the eastern Baltic Sea started three years ago. Initially, the Baltic Sea Heritage Rescue Project Team only wanted to draw attention to the problem with pictures and videos. However, they quickly realized that this was not enough. Consequently, Sabine Kerkau, Rolandas Schön, and Linas Duoblys founded the non-profit organization, Baltic Sea Heritage Rescue Project. (BSHRP) 

Their goals include searching, identifying and documenting wrecks deeper than 40 meters. In addition to the condition of the wrecks and existing artifacts, their documentation includes an inventory of the ghost nets that you may find. The BSHRP cooperates with the University of Klaipeda’s Department of History and Archaeology, the Lithuanian Sea Museum, various ministries, as well as the Estonian Heritage Board. Under strict control and with the requirement to not damage the wrecks, some of which are more than a hundred years old, the ghost nets are recovered 

Six project weeks were planned for 2019. 

The goal of these 2019 project weeks was to free the wreck of the Elbing IX freighter from ghost nets. The wreck, which sank in 1914, is 80 meters long and lies at a depth of 50 meters. It was covered in nets from bow to stern. Sometimes there were still floating bodies on the nets. The bodies ensured the nets were not lying on the wreck, but were instead floating up to 20 meters above the wreck, an extremely dangerous situation for all sea creatures and us divers. The conditions under which the BSHRP worked only allowed the use of very experienced divers.

The successful implementation of the goals was only possible with strong partners. They demanded the highest quality from both the divers supporting the team and from the equipment. In addition to the components they could control, there are other factors they could not. Weather and the willingness of the divers to support the project weeks were two examples of this. Of the six project weeks in 2019, two had to be canceled with little notice as inclement weather precluded the trips. No one had registered for another week. In the remaining three weeks, the goal for 2019 was to free Elbing IX from several tons of plastic waste in the form of the ghost nets.

A note on permits and permissions 

The BSHRP is working on very old wrecks, as such they are dependent on permits from the responsible authorities, as well as the cooperation with the university and the Lithuanian Sea Museum. Some of these partners were initially skeptical about the project. For them, divers were more dangerous to the wrecks than ghost nets. Divers were equated with looting and destroying. Due to the efforts of the BSHRP, they are on track to change this opinion. 

Another goal of the Baltic Sea Heritage Rescue Project is, therefore, to protect the wrecks from looting and destruction. But, why Lithuania? Why the stationary eastern Baltic Sea? The answers are simple. It was in Lithuania that the BSHRP was first confronted with the problem of ghost nets. No one else wanted to do anything about them and sustainability is important in the stationary east Baltic Sea. To achieve these goals is only possible if one is persistent and continues speaking about the problem and provides information. Unfortunately, for most people, everything below the water surface is so far away that they don’t see it as their problem. The project will continue in 2020. The next wreck to be freed from nets has been selected. The team will be in use for ten weeks in 2020.

The dates are set:

June 6 until June 13, 2020 – wreck search (60 to 90m), 3 places free

June 13 until June 20,2020 – wreck identification/networks Bergen (42 to 52m) with Holger Buss, 4 places free

June 20 until June 27, 2020 – net (42 to 52), 7 places available

August 22 until August 29, 2020 – wreck search/identification( 60 to 90m), – 2 places free

August 29 to September 5, 2020 – wreck identification and wreck documentation (50 to 56m) with Holger Buss, 4 places free

September 5 until September 12, 2020 – rescue networks (Greenpeace closed group)

September 12 until September 19, 2020 – wreck search (60 to 90m), 5 spaces free 

The cost-sharing of the participants per project week is 1000 €, which includes diving, overnight stays on the ship, breakfast, coffee, tea, water, compressed air and oxygen. A € 300 deposit is due upon registration. Travel, helium and other catering costs are available for additional fees.

The Baltic Sea Heritage Rescue Project is still looking for sponsors and financial support to fund the weeks, thereby reducing the cost-sharing of the participants. The best way to get there is by ferry from Kiel to Klaipeda or through Poland by land. Information and registration are available at: +41 78 8890 634

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