Our day started early at 7AM. Our 12 volunteers gathered at the resort and applied ample amounts of sunscreen for the upcoming hours they were about to spend cleaning one of our local beaches. We had surveyed some of the beaches on the east side of Utila a few weeks earlier and picked Aquarium shores because it was in the most dire state.
Loading up into the pick up one could already sense the pride with which our volunteers rose up to the occasion. The ride was an adventure in itself. Moving slowly down the dirt paths of Utila's hinterlands gave us all a sense that we had a great task ahead of us. Arriving at the chosen beach confirmed why we had volunteered in the first place. Immediately it was plain to see that the currents had washed up awesome amount of debris. Immediately we set out into groups and started our effort at cleaning up the beach.
Within no less than 45 minutes we had exhausted all of our 10 huge garbage bags that we had brought out for the occasion. While the volunteers rested in the shade, a few of us went back into town to pick up more garbage bags. Upon our return, in no less than just over an hours we managed to fill the next set of 10 bags. As impressed as we were with ourselves for the amount of garbage that we had collected, looking further down the beach we felt almost helpless. Our little stretch of beach was only so small compared to the miles of shoreline around Utila.
Heading back to the resort ready for a break, a bite to eat, and sharing our thoughts about the events so far that morning, one could again sense the sense of determination when the volunteers started talking about the planned event for the afternoon: Underwater Vision first Dive Against Debris Day.
The buzz around the resort about the mornings beach clean up helped in recruiting even more volunteers for our Dive Against Debris. 16 Volunteers showed up at our dock and having received a complete briefing about what we were about to embark on again one could help but notice the excitement on the boat.
We chose two dive sites: Aquarium and Honey Comb Cliffs. We split up into groups of three underwater, one person carrying a bag in which to collect garbage, one with the cutting tool, and the other leading and surveying for debris. Compared to the morning on the beach, there really wasn't to much to pick up at the Aquarium. The second dive on the other hand kept us busy throughout. Fishing lines were rampant, covering large portions of the reef. Trying our best not to damage the corals we delicately disentangled and cut the fishing lines. Around the bend leading to Red Cliffs we came upon a swarm of small plastic fragments loosely floating everywhere. We did our best to collect it all but the quantity was overwhelming. In the midst of our frenzy collecting plastic pieces one of our volunteers spotted the unexpected. A small juvenile Hawksbill turtle, upside down, and apparently dead laying on the bottom. Having confirmed it was dead, we quickly spotted a second turtle, this one at the surface barely moving, once in a while raising its head gasping for air. With no apparent injuries, it became clear that the young turtles had choked on some debris that was floating throughout the area. Tears were shed, but a renewed understanding and determination confirmed why we were all there to start with. Our Ocean does need our help, it down need us to step up and help.
Heading back to Underwater Vision, we celebrated our efforts with a few chilled beverages and renewed excitement for the evening ahead. Finishing off the day with a relaxed BBQ, after having surveyed and tallied the over 600 pounds of garbage collected, let us end the day with a sense of accomplishment. It also started a conversation about the need to organize such events more regularly. We as a dive center and resort, as ambassador of the reef and Utila, committed to organizing similar events more often, maybe even 3-4 times yearly. If anything, we had a great day. More so, we bonded. The days events were talked about for days afterwards.