Ghost Net Project
The Ghost Net Project, a collaboration between artist Heather Green and poet Katherine Larson, uses the physical remains from ﬁshing as a lens to examine historical, cultural and ecological relationships to the Sea of Cortez.
The project consists of 25 shadow boxes constructed with salvaged shrimp boat wood and ﬁlled with a display of ﬂotsam and jetsam collected on the rocky shores of La Cholla. Each box is paired with a poem, an excerpt of which is etched onto its glass façade.
The Ghost Net Project debuted in 2009 at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Proceeds from the sale of the boxes were donated to the Sociedad Cooperativa Buzos de Puerta Punta Peñasco, a group of commercial divers of Puerto Peñasco that ﬁsh sustainably. CEDO Intercultural (The Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans) have worked closely with the divers and oversaw the administration of funds.
Boxes constructed with wood from old boats, found objects, etched glass
The Ghost Net Project was inspired by a group of commercial divers fishing sustainably in Puerto Peñasco and developed in response to the complex crisis affecting the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California, an ecologically rich sea located in Mexico. Like many other marine ecosystems, poorly managed, non-selective fishing practices have resulted in declining fish populations, diminished biodiversity, and damage to the economies of local fishermen.
Lost or discarded gill nets, sometimes called "ghosts nets" for the way they continue to indiscriminately trap and kill organisms from seabirds to porpoises, are one of several fishing byproducts that have been devastating to these marine ecosystems. Ghost nets themselves become a metaphor for a collection of lost objects and rituals. Assembled into contemplative objects, however, they are transformed from objects of ruin into objects of reverie.
These shadow boxes were made with wood that was collected from old, dry-docked shrimp boats in Puerto Peñasco. The box’s interior flotsam and jetsam were collected on the rocky shore of nearby La Cholla. Heaps of jettisoned or ghost fishing line gather organic and as well as inorganic material, ebbing with the tide and becoming bleached by the sun and eroded by the abrasion of the sea floor. Much of this manmade detritus metamorphoses into something much more organic; the blues and greens of the fishing line resemble beach glass or coralline algae, and other materials become weathered, imperfect, or even substrate for bryozoans and tunicates. The debris collected for the boxes also includes boats fragments—a cleat from a sailboat, a wooden rudder and hull, and its oxidized copper and brass screws—that were extracted for their historic resonance.
The poems dovetail with the boxes, introducing fishing practices and fishermen from oyster farmers to hookah divers, octopus hunters and crab trappers. Philosophers and artists, paleobiologists and ecologists make appearances and offer insight. The poems inscribed on the front of the boxes are fragmentary; like flotsam on waves, they drift on the glass in pieces. Like reading a drift line, the essence of the objects and text and their placement together must be inferred. In this way, the boxes become landscapes that must be pieced together, describing a history read through objects, and time that must be understood in small lessons: the debris collected from each tide line becomes a teaching.
Floating continents of garbage, sunken ghost nets continuing to fish, and plummeting levels of biodiversity are catastrophes affecting marine ecosystems worldwide. By honoring and assisting the commercial divers of Peñasco and others that are fishing sustainably, it is our hope that this project can exist as an example of the possibilities inherent in interdisciplinary and intercultural exchange, and the necessity of addressing complex ecological problems with imagination and perspective.