Diving Against Debris - Diving for Change

Project AWARE have recently updated their image – a new, grown-up logo as well as, it seems, more grown-up projects.

Diving Against Debris - Diving for Change

Amongst divers, Project AWARE are famous for their beach cleanups.  Many PADI Instructors and Divemasters, as well as non professional divers, have at one time participated in one of these beach clean-ups arranged all over the world by dive shops, and I am sure that a lot of those divers have at some point questioned their usefulness. 

From personal experience of cleaning the beaches of Utila, Honduras, and literally the next day seeing the same beaches covered in more trash, it made me doubt the effectiveness of Project AWARE’s symbolic beach clean-ups.  Yes, we cleaned up this trash which had made its way to this beach, but what were we doing to stop more trash ending up on the shore, and what about the trash which didn’t wash up on a beach but was destined to float forever in our oceans?

Well Project AWARE seem to have heard these same concerns from others because they have now come up with their Dive Against Debris project.  Of course it wouldn’t be Project AWARE without a beach cleanup, but now they (or rather, we) go further by collecting data about the rubbish that we find and remove, and logging this with Project AWARE to build a global database.  “Coordinated strategies are needed at local, national, regional and international levels to prevent, reduce and manage solid waste” Project AWARE says.  “Together, we can stop marine debris by taking local action and supporting policy change.”

I am rather enthusiastic about this new project, and hope that Project AWARE can deliver what they promise.  The issue of marine debris has been of particular importance to me ever since I read about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” - swirling mass of plastic rubbish estimated to be the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean.  Some of what I have read about this issue has been truly shocking.  The United Nations’ Environment Programme estimates that in every single square mile of the sea, there are 46,000 pieces of plastic floating.  Most of the garbage is plastic because plastic doesn’t readily biodegrade like many other materials – I’ve heard it say that it takes one hundred years for a plastic carrier bag to break down, and even then it doesn’t truly biodegrade – it simply breaks down into smaller bits of plastic, which makes the problem worse.

Plastic objects are commonly mistaken by marine birds and animals for food – turtles especially mistake plastic bags for their favourite meal of jellyfish.   It fills their stomachs so the animals cannot digest any food.  Discarded fishing lines wrap around fins, flippers and wings so that animals cannot move and drown.  Plastics also absorb poisonous chemicals and, as plastics now outnumber zooplankton by 6:1 in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, these chemicals end up in the food chain and – eventually – us.

Not that there is much benefit of looking to blame anyone, but who is at fault?  First of all we need to look at ourselves as consumers.  The average person uses 168 plastic water bottles every year, and how many get recycled?  Statistics say just 28% in 2009.  That leaves an awful lot of plastic bottles in landfills and, even worse, in our oceans. 

Even if all of our plastic bottles were recycled, I would still have concerns about the energy (usually from fossil fuels) and the costs involved in recycling.  If the truth be told, I think that the fact that many of us can throw our trash in the green bin marked “Recyclables” makes us believe that this rampant consumerism is not such a bad thing, and actually encourages us to use and throw away even more.  Recycle should be the third of the “Rs” – Reduce, Reuse and lastly, Recycle.

OK, hands up, it’s our fault.  I could go on about what we can all do to use less plastic and leave our throwaway society behind, and what steps Exotic Dive Resort are already taking, but I won’t.  Not today anyway.  Let’s take this one step at a time.

So, what happens if we get involved in Project AWARE’s new Dive Against Debris?  Here is a brief overview of how Dive Against Debris works:

·         First, you choose your survey area, dive time and depth limits

·         Buddy teams remove debris from underwater

·         Debris items are grouped by material of construction

·         After the dive, you record your findings on a Data Card

·         You weigh as one item all the debris you collected

·         You report your data online at www.projectAWARE.org

 

All this involves a bit more work after the cleanup than the previous scheme, but I hope in the long term it will be worth it.  The data provided will hopefully be used to strengthen demands for improved infrastructure and policies that will prevent trash from entering the ocean.  Project AWARE say they will support local leaders who work in their communities to make changes that stop rubbish from entering the ocean.  And of course it makes our dive sites look a lot prettier!

 

Gone are the annual “Beach Cleanup Days”.  You are now asked to participate all year round – whenever you pick up that crisp packet or old battery on a dive, report it online to build a true picture of what is finding its way into our oceans.

 

Here at Exotic Island Dive Resort this month we will updating all our staff and volunteers about the new Dive Against Debris project, as well as carrying out some special dives dedicated to cleaning our dive sites and reporting our first data. 

And this time, I will feel a little more hopeful as I participate.

 

This blog post was originally posted on the GoPro Family's website: http://www.thegoprofamily.com