First, I really want to thank all of those who helped make this event a success. We had divers, safety observers, kayak surface support, and data collectors. As a result of all of your efforts, we collected over 1,500 pounds of debris from the waters! Everyone did a great job, and I thank you all.
To support both Tampa Bay’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day and Project Aware’s Dive Against Debris, we did our dive cleanup in October this year. Tampa Bay wanted to merge two big events this year into one. Tampa normally has their ICC day in September, followed with a Recycle Regatta and River Rally in October. This year they combined them both and held it in October, which is why our Dive Against Debris event was one of the last Project Aware events to support ICC.
Although we have done dive cleanups at the Ballast Point Pier in the past, Project Aware and Ocean Conservancy utilize multiple dive cleanups at the same location for trend analysis and since we have always found trash at this location in our previous dives, this gave us an opportunity to support their data analysis.
I arrived at the park an hour prior to the scheduled safety brief, and it did not look good for a morning dive. The winds were gusting a bit and the bay waters were choppy. My initial decision was to only use the advanced certified divers and have the others provide surface support and data collection. Those who came out with their kayaks to provide surface support were also on standby as we watched the weather. As the sun began to rise, the winds slowly died and the waters began to settle. We had a great turnout for this event. We had close to 50 volunteers from various organizations and institutions, to include the University of South Florida, University of Central Florida, University of Tampa, Tampa Bay Watch, The Florida Aquarium, MacDill Air Force Base, Project Aware, and local residents. It is hard to imagine that we started these four years ago with just six divers!
By the time I started my safety brief, the waters were looking good enough for all divers to participate. I had three areas I wanted to focus on, so I split up the divers, surface support, and safety observers into three groups. The first two groups conducted the dive cleanup on the north and south side of the pier, pushing out and along the shoreline.
The third group consisted of the most experienced divers and was used to support a dive recovery that was requested by the city’s parks and recreation department. Earlier this year, Tampa Bay had hurricane Isaac come through its area. During that storm, a section of the Ballast Point Pier, specifically the mid-pier’s boat/fishing platform, was ripped from the pier and was somewhere in the surrounding waters. Tampa Parks and Recreation Department had requested that our divers conduct a search and recover for these specialty-treated (and very expensive) platforms.
The divers did a great job. On the north side, divers ventured out and continued towards the mangroves. On the south side, divers cleaned the waters along the shoreline, to include the area around the park’s boat ramp. Items collected included metal pipes, rebar, pvc pipes, cans, bottles, and a very large number of fishing nets and throw nets. At least 200 pounds of our total weight collected were weights taken from the fishing nets alone. The recovery of the pier parts was very successful. We were able to retrieve all three pieces of the pier, each piece weighing over 200 pounds. The city of Tampa was very appreciative, as we saved them thousands of dollars in costs associated with constructing new pieces of this special material.
A few shout outs….for the most unusual item found, congrats to Katie from the Florida Aquarium Dive Operations, who found a metal toy bi-plane. A great little find! I also want to thank Scott Lucci, from World of Water dive shop in Tampa. He donated dive gear and tanks to many of the volunteer divers, as he has in previous dive cleanups. They are not only the most professional dive shop in Tampa; they are also the most environmentally-involved dive shop in Tampa. Please stop by their shop and when you do, make sure you thank Scott for everything he does to support Tampa’s environment.
As with each event, you always have lessons learned, that you want to use to make the next event even better. For this event, I had a few. Although I had asked all divers to bring a dive flag or sausage for use in the water, I found that several did not during the dive. This was some concern to me, as we had a boat ramp in our area with boaters wanting to put their boat in the water. Because I could not account for the locations of all the divers, due to them not using a surface device during their dive, we had to hold off the boaters, which made them unhappy. We will ensure this does not happen again.
Thanks again to all of you who made this season a good one. We are looking at future dive cleanup sites and will be talking to the different counties around Tampa Bay to coordinate events after the holiday season comes and goes.