Photo credit: DR NEO MEI LIN

Discarded gill net on Pulau Semakau kills several species of marine animals

Discarded, lost and abandoned fishing gear has proven to be harmful to marine life in Singapore.

Khalisa Zulkiflee

Creative writer and comedian on the side.

Published: 29 June 2021, 10:51 AM

Unknown to many, the shores of Singapore and its many islands are home to marine wildlife, from coral reefs and starfishes to horseshoe crabs and black-tipped reef sharks. 

One such island is Pulau Semakau, Singapore’s first and only landfill situated among the southern islands of Singapore. Its unpolluted waters make a safe haven for many marine species. 

However, abandoned fishing gear has been a threat for marine wildlife in the area. 

On Sunday (Jun 27), local marine biologist Dr Neo Mei Lin found several species of dead and dying marine animals at Pulau Semakau, including 12 black-tipped reef sharks, a horseshoe crab, a mud crab and two other fish species. 

The senior research fellow of Tropical Marine Science Institute at National University of Singapore was on a research trip when she discovered the gill net and the marine animals stuck in it. 

She shared that as soon as she saw the gill nets, she knew she would find some wildlife casualties. 

Dr Neo told Youthopia: “Gill net fishing has been considered as one of the more destructive fishing methods. The approach that gill nets use to fish is laying the mesh nets vertically in the water column, which then trap and catch fish swimming into these nets. 

“Fundamentally, these gill nets indiscriminately fish out all kinds of biodiversity, including non-target species such as the sharks that serve as key apex predators to maintain habitat integrity.”

The marine biologist explained that these nets also have a tendency to catch dolphins, sea turtles and dugongs. 

In her Instagram Stories, she posted several videos and pictures of marine animals ensnared in a gill net, marine pollution on shores, and bleached corals with algae overgrowing on them, a sign that they were under stress.


Ghost fishing happens when lost, discarded or abandoned fishing gear continues to trap and kill marine life. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@CLAMSCIENTIST


Dr Neo, a recipient of the Singapore Youth Award in 2019 for her work in conservation of giant clams, also gave advice on what you can do if you encounter such nets. 

Taking good pictures of the nets and entrapped marine animals before making a report to the authorities makes it easier for them to handle the removal of nets from seashores.

You should also be careful when approaching these abandoned nets with ensnared animals as they could potentially harm you. When rescuing them, you should work in teams when untangling some of the trickier animals. 

“As the nets catch on to any kind of species including the dangerous stonefish and sea snakes, one must be cautious and well-equipped with the knowledge to decide whether they are able to rescue them,” she said. 


Dr Neo’s discovery is the latest in a line of recent marine deaths involving the same type of nets. PHOTO CREDIT: DR NEO MEI LIN


In early May, a critically endangered hawksbill turtle was found dead and tightly bound in a gill net in waters at Pulau Hantu. A few days later, a gill net was found over hard coral in Lazarus Island. 

Dr Neo also suggested a few ways our local youth can do our part for our marine life. 

She said: “Beach and seashore clean-ups can help to unclog litter and plastics from these natural habitats. These debris are not only unsightly, but could smother/suffocate certain marine life. 

“Another way that youths can help is to engage with the public (especially young children!) as best as possible on why certain behaviour and actions (such as handling and collecting marine life, gill netting) can cause unnecessary stress to marine life.”

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