MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, April 12, 2017 – Every scuba diver who removes a piece of trash from the water is a hero, no matter how small the find. That’s one of the main reasons the Project AWARE Foundation exists: to mobilize and inspire divers worldwide to fight the spread of marine debris through its nonprofit “Dive Against Debris” (DAD) program.
The scale of Dive Against Debris™ is impressive. Since its launch in 2011, over 25,000 divers have participated in over 1500 underwater cleanups in over 50 countries. The dives typically are sponsored by local PADI dive shops, at no cost to the diver. Altogether the program has collected, cataloged, reported, and properly disposed of over 500,000 pieces of marine trash. The Project AWARE Foundation is a global nonprofit that stands for “Aquatic World Awareness, Responsibility and Education (AWARE),” and it’s clearly a full-time job. The organization forecasts that by 2025, up to 250 million metric tons of plastic alone could make its way into the world’s oceans.
With such large numbers, a sunny Sunday afternoon in Tampa, Florida when 40 volunteers found only six pounds of underwater trash might be easily overlooked. But the Dive Against Debris organizers at Calypso Tampa and MacDill Air Force Base hope this will become the most important six pounds ever found by Project AWARE.
Why? Because the March 26 event marked the world’s first known Dive Against Debris on a military base that teamed military and civilian recreational divers from the local community. Of the 29 scuba divers and 11 surface support staff that searched around several piers on MacDill AFB, about half were military and the other half were civilians from the Tampa area. MacDill AFB is surrounded on three sides by the waters of Tampa Bay.
Ed Krawczyk is the General Manager of Calypso Tampa, a well-known Tampa scuba and swimming facility that worked with MacDill AFB’s 6th Air Mobility Wing to plan and sponsor the event. “We were very proud to join military and civilian scuba divers together for the first time in Project AWARE,” said Krawczyk. “Even though we all share the same Tampa Bay, most of the civilian and military divers had never met each other before. One of the biggest surprises for the civilians was how enthusiastic U.S. military people are about preserving the ocean environment. And for many of the military divers, it was the first time they had ever been exposed to Project AWARE.”
Because of security considerations on an active Air Force base that hosts U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) 4-star headquarters as well as the 6th Air Mobility Wing, Calypso Tampa planners and their uniformed counterparts at MacDill broke much new ground that DAD planners don’t normally encounter. “We worked with the base’s Wing Commander, the Public Affairs Officer, the Marine Police, the Security Forces Squadron, and many others on base to create the dive plan,” said Thomas Koch, a PADI Course Director at Calypso Tampa and one of the dive’s civilian organizers. “Military bases take security very seriously. Getting a large group of civilians through the gate with scuba gear and over 30 tanks required a lot of advance coordination. But the MacDill officers and enlisted who helped make it happen were not only 100% professional, they were friendly and enthusiastic about the project too.” After the dive, The MacDill Public Affairs office published a story about the event that reached over 100,000 Twitter and Facebook subscribers around the world.
Both Calypso Tampa and MacDill AFB consider the landmark dive a huge success, and they already are making plans for the next on-base Dive Against Debris. “The fact that 29 divers found only six pounds of trash around three heavily-used piers tells us that MacDill residents are good custodians of their waterfront,” said Krawczyk. “Project AWARE gave Tampa area civilian divers a chance to give back to the military that protects the freedoms we all enjoy. For the military volunteers, it not only increased their awareness of Project AWARE, but the volunteer hours can be added to their annual performance evaluations. So everybody wins, and above all the ocean – and it was a lot of fun, too!”
Both the military and civilian organizers hope this historic event in Tampa will inspire other cities around the world with waterfront military bases to do similar dives. “Calypso Tampa will be happy to provide our lessons learned to any Project AWARE volunteers nationwide. We want to help other communities to do the same thing for their military bases that have saltwater or freshwater areas,” said Krawczyk. “It’s a great feeling for everyone to support our military while also being a small part of Dive Against Debris history.”
About Calypso Tampa Calypso Tampa is a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Center with over 17 years’ experience serving both the recreational and Public Safety diving sectors. It offers PADI diving certifications from Open Water to IDC Staff Instructor, and a variety of specialty training courses. Calypso also is an Aqua Lung Authorized Repair Center, with manufacturer-trained staff and specialized equipment to service a variety of regulator systems, BCDs, dive computers and gauges, dry suits, dive cylinders, and other diving equipment. Most of Calypso’s instructors have been teaching for a decade or more. Calypso Tampa is also known for being the only dive facility in Tampa with an indoor on-site heated pool. This gives students the convenience of going straight from classroom to pool, and allows scuba gear customers to “try before you buy.”