On April 4th 2012, the new elected Senegalese President nominated Haidar El Ali, our ecopartner, Minister of Ecology and the Protection of Nature. Congratulations !!!
The boat bounces on the waves. We are soaked. Now is the time to drop anchor. Haidar sharpens a knife on a stone attached to his forearm. He stands and moves carefully to balance the bow. Arms and legs wide, breathing in the sea, he fills his lungs. His lips are moving. What is he saying? A prayer? He is emotional, quite emotional. After a few minutes, he returns to us, and joins his friend diving off the side. Daniel's amazement and Haidar’s laughter. The water is cold, murky, low visibility. I will not dive. I do not have the required level. Pulling the old nets hung on the wrecks lie strewn on the sea floor around the peninsula, in cold, dark water, requires a level 4.
To descend, the two men follow the anchor chain, breadcrumbs in water obscured by micro-algae and sediment. After having watched the dive unfold in “Demain La Mer”, one of Haidar’s many films on the sea, it is easy for me to imagine them underwater. At the sea bottom, the ghostly outline of a wreck. Attached to its carcass, a gigantic net blocks the natural path of fish and algae. Its meshes have trapped fish now long dead. Others struggle frantically. Disentangle the net and unravel the small murders is a complex process. Haidar has brought his knife.
With precise gestures, he cuts the rope, removes the netting. He has surely stumbled across the translucent, almost invisible monofilament nylon dancing with the current. Both a rotting veil and indestructible prison, rotting, trapping and killing for years, so cheap to buy fisherman do not bemoan its loss. Clinging to the rocky sea bottom, the monofilament net continues to fish unnecessarily. Spread over tens of meters, it captures all fish species, their dying attracting expected scavengers into the twisting of its mesh. The net becomes a chain of death. By strangling sea creatures and organisms - such as sea fans - living on the sea bottom, one sea net can destroy the life of an entire ecosystem. Prohibited by laws since 1998, Senegalese legislation also banned mesh sizes less than 24 mm for fishing. Yet, nothing has changed.
Once the net is ripped, Haidar must attach parachutes to white cans which, rising to the surface, will drag the endless knot of nylon, shellfish and algae pellets. In its wake, the water is opaque, obscure. Christophe Rouviere, Regis Losthe and many other of Haidar’s diver friends confirm what I imagined: raising lost nets is a venture not without risks. Strained by its own weight, the net may give way at any time, slapping and trapping a diver. Our boat, engine stilled, has drifted. We have moved away from the divers who we can only monitor through the rising wake of bubbles.