community art & marine debris puppets!

'The Young Man and The Ghost Net'. A community art project on Moa Island, Australia.

Its 2010, and St Pauls village on Moa Island (Australia) celebrates the first puppet show of it's kind in the Torres Strait ... and the first puppet show ever made out of ghost nets and marine debris! Materials were collected locally, and puppets were woven together in community workshops with the Arts Centre, School, Churches and wider community all contributing

The story was told using a shadow puppet screen, narration, live music and full choir. The audience sang and wept their way through the story of a young fisherman's encounters with ghost nets, performed by around 65 local musicians, singers and puppeteers of all ages. This project was so unique that Ghost Nets Australia produced this film. It features interviews with local artists, preparation of the artworks and the final performance. All of the photos, text and videos are from the GhostNets Australia website.

The film: 'The Young Man and The Ghost Net'

The background

The problem

In Australia, ghost nets (discarded or abandoned fishing nets) are devastating our endangered marine life. This is particularly the case in Australia’s far north in the Gulf of Carpentaria: one of the last remaining safe havens for endangered marine and coastal species, including six of the world’s seven marine turtle species, dugongs and sawfish. Sadly turtles make up 80 percent of the marine life found caught in the nets. The ghost net issue is an international one: 90% of the marine debris entering the Australia is from South East Asian fishers. 

Rangers in Australia have removed more than 13,000 nets from our beaches and estuaries. In the past, the rangers would either burn or dump tonnes upon tonnes of ghost nets. They were seen as useless rubbish ....

The organisation

GhostNets Australia is an alliance of Indigenous communities stretching along 3000kms of coastline in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and operated under a simple philosophy: saltwater people working together.

GhostNets Australia has already facilitated the rescue of over 300 entrapped turtles and removal of 13,000 nets from our beaches and estuaries.

The opportunity

One person's trash is another's artistic treasure! 

GhostNets Australia created the GhostNets Art Program to raise public awareness on the issue of marine debris, and to empower Indigenous communities to help with the solution. The program takes marine debris and turns it into artworks using traditional weaving techniques.

The method: community art projects

How did they share their story?

Performing a story about the effects of ghost nets using shadow puppets and sculptures made from ghost nets!


Artists Karen Hethey and Ilka White spent four weeks on Moa, at St Pauls community, drawing together peoples real life experiences of seeing the damage ghost nets do to sea creatures: to turtles, dugongs, coral reef and mangroves. Ghost nets also present dangers to people crossing the open waters between islands.

What difference has it made?

GhostNets Australia sponsored more than 20 ghost net art workshops over four years, starting in Aurukun in 2009. Locations were as widespread as Darnley Island in the east and South Goulburn Island, NT, in the west. As a result of these workshops indigenous ghost net art began appearing in galleries and art fairs around Australia. 

On Moa Island, after the performance, St Pauls community members said they were “deeply touched” and believed that with such powerful storytelling GhostNets Australia could influence and inform people all around the world. The film above has since been translated into Korean, Indonesian and French for showing in those countries.

The impact of the puppets will live on. Artists from St Pauls community said they were inspired to continue puppet construction on Moa Island, raising awareness and continuing the Ghost Net art explosion across the Torres Strait.

How can you make art from environmental waste?

Step by step explanation on how other groups can do a similar project...

According to GhostNets Australia:

  • Having experienced fibre artists facilitating workshops in remote communities was the key to encouraging local artisans to take up the medium.

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