You know what happens when you go diving and you don’t pay attention to any of the fish?
They start paying attention to you.
Along with 450 other people, I participated in cleaning up the reefs around Phuket, Thailand. Fourteen dive boats took out experienced divers to free corals from fishing nets and pick up garbage careless divers, tourists, fishermen, and polluters left behind. More than 15 tons of debris was collected. Divers, armed with bags, picked up everything from nets to styrofoam to plastic chairs.
My fins stayed above my head as I struggled to delicately remove discarded fishing nets from around the coral. Sand dusted up as the rope, piece by piece, released its grab from the fragile ecosystem. A purple grouper hovered two inches from my face, sensing I was no threat, stared at what I was trying to accomplish. Schools of butterfly fish, surrounded my head, as I braced myself on a patch of sand, pulling a ribbon of purple cloth trapped beneath the sand. I was no longer an observer to them, the usual voyeur trying to inch my way into their private fishy lives. I was the odd one in this time, going about my business, collecting pieces of plastic chairs, possible debris from last month’s monsoon. A triggerfish checked out my awesome pink eye mask.
Some debris had already evolved as part of the environment. Coral grew from a metal spoket, some sort of seaweed sprang from a net. We didn’t touch those. That, of course, is the first rule in diving. (Actually, the second, since the first rule always concerns with safety). Do not disturb your environment. Do not take anything with you but memories. Preserve this place for as long as possible.
The event, ‘Phuket Dive for Debris,’ was a success. With 14 boats and over 450 people participating and 15 tons of debris collected, it dramatically helped the surrounding corals. But the sad part is there is a very high chance that next year, the same amount of debris will be collected.
But in the mean time we can all help. If you dive and are able to control your buoyancy, bring that plastic bag back up to the boat with you. If you are a runner, participate in a marathon charity. If you take daily walks with your dog, pick up that plastic bottle some jerk tossed out of his car. Don’t wait for a huge organized event. Perhaps if we all do our part, we won’t need them one day.