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Fishing net removed ahead of sea-turtle release off Maryland coast

A 1,500-pound mass of tangled, derelict fishing net that looked “like it was breathing” slowly comes aboard a TowBoatUS boat in Ocean City, Md., a day before 12 rehabilitated sea turtles were released nearby.

A 1,500-pound mass of tangled, derelict fishing net that looked “like it was breathing” slowly comes aboard a TowBoatUS boat in Ocean City, Md., a day before 12 rehabilitated sea turtles were released nearby.

A project led by the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water removed a large commercial fishing net entangled on an artificial reef in Ocean City, Md., in June.

Nearby just one day later — and by complete coincidence — biologists from the National Aquarium Animal Rescue team released 12 rehabilitated sea turtles to the wild.

Three miles of open water was all that separated the two efforts to protect and nurture marine life on the Atlantic Coast.

Tasked for the Ocean City net removal project was Capt. Rob Coperhaver of TowBoatUS Ocean City. By day, Coperhaver provides on-water towing services to recreational boaters, but on this early Wednesday morning his crew hunted down the wayward net.

Marine debris such as nets, fishing line and derelict crab pots can snare and kill marine life long after they are lost or abandoned at sea. Although the net was scheduled to be removed the following week, the sea conditions were too good to pass up.

“We quickly located it, fully suspended in the water column,” said dive-team lead TowBoatUS Capt. Rick Younger in a statement. “It appeared to be almost alive, like it was breathing, opening and closing with each movement of the ocean swell.”

The team dove on the wreck, identified lift points and carefully brought the estimated 1,500 pounds of tangled net aboard for disposal. Funds for the project came from a $51,000 grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program for the removal of large debris. TowBoatUS Ocean City and local monitoring agencies contributed matching funds through in-kind services.

Since 2006 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has supported more than 100 marine debris-removal projects across the country, eliminating more than 5,500 metric tons of debris.

The timing for the project could not have been better. Just one day later the turtles were released a short distance away.

“At least we know this is one net that won’t harm any more marine life,” Younger said.

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