By Simply Diving's Dive Operations Manager Simon Bell
How sad it is to see one of your favourite dive sites - bursting with the most vibrant and diverse species of marine life; steeped in the most fascinating naval history that stretches back literally centuries; accessible to divers of all abilities and experience - turned into a rubbish dump.
So sets the scene for Simply Diving's Dive For Debris Day 2011…
Offering all and any divers the chance to dive on the historic wrecks of Gibraltar for half the normal price meant there was no shortage of volunteer divers for the day in question. And with all proceeds of the day going to Project AWARE, our divers could enjoy their day of diving while knowing that they were supporting an incredible cause too.
The first dive of the day saw our teams sweep the entire Camp Bay area - a dive site renowned throughout southern Spain as a haven for tons of varied marine life that make the Camp Bay Artificial Reef Project their home. This meant surveying the eight famous wrecks, including the Royal Navy mooring vessel M482, for any signs of debris while collecting as much of it as possible.
It was a very pleasant surprise to see all our divers - ranging from Open Water divers to PADIDivemasters and Instructors - emerge from the depths with a few, limp, half-filled mesh bags. Despite the odd glass bottle and empty can of San Miguel - more than likely brought in on the sometime swift current from the Strait that sees 100,000 ships pass through each year - there was just the odd fishing line or lure to show for our efforts.
So it was off to neighbouringRosia Bay for Dive 2 to hunt for something a bit more inspirational.
This bay, situated on the west of Gibraltar and facing out to Algeciras across the bay in Spain, has laid derelict and quiet for many years, despite its incredible history. Certainly only the most determined tourist could ever know its true story.
The Spanish sieges on Gibraltar saw it as a busy refuge for British ships, while it was also the only docks in Gibraltar where they could be resupplied and repaired before gong back out to battle. More fascinating still it is Rosia Bay where HMS Victory was towed after the Battle Of Trafalgar to deliver Lord Nelson's body in a barrel of rum.
What a different sight today.
The first signs looked ominous as we approached to prepare for our giant stride entry off the old pier and into the warm, clear water. We could already start to see that here we were going to need some bigger mesh bags.
Under the water, octopus both old and young, damselfish and rainbow wrasse were all vying for space among car batteries, discarded parasols, barbecues, flip flops, car tyres… and a moped!
This was what we'd come for and so the dive for debris began in earnest.
Finally the teams surfaced after an hour of heaving heavy bag after heavy bag, in between lifting an office chair, car wheel, a few deckchairs, a brand new child's pushchair, fishing rods and yet many more bags of bottles and cans.
The final count can be found on www.projectaware.org, but the weight of rubbish amounted to an impressive 175 kilos!
All that remained was to pack up the dive gear and sip on a well-earned cold beer.
Daniela Muehlheim, Science & Policy Co-ordinator of Project AWARE Europe, thanked the 21 divers that took part. "Thank you very much to Simply Diving and its volunteers for all your efforts and the great donation. Thanks for all you've done to make this ocean planet a healthier and cleaner one," she said. A bright note to end on after all.
But although we made a decent dent in the garbage that is attempting to strangle the still-thriving reef, it will require a few more visits from determined divers like ours to change the face of the underwater landscape on a more permanent basis.
So, who's up for Dive For Debris 2012??