Our Earth Day 2014 ocean dives started today with a wonderful group of divers ready to do their part at taking care of our oceans. As divers, the onus is on us to take care of this unseen and often neglected part of the Earth. Trash of all kind is dumped into the ocean every day and its effects on the wildlife is often detrimental. Thankfully, once you get a chance to see the ocean world in all its splendors, you are quickly transformed into one of its stewarts. Sharing your experiences and the importance of protecting our ocean is perhaps the most important thing we can do for Earth Day EVERY DAY.
Our first dive was at Dive-A-Rama. This dive site, located between Flower Gardens and Breakers, is rich in fish life, so we were expecting to pick up a good amount of fishing line off the reef. Thankfully, because of its frequent visits by divers, who without question consider every day Earth Day, the reef was devoid of a good amount of fishing line. What we did pick up was scattered bits of trash. In the mix were numerous beer cans, plastic soda drinks, and floating pieces of plastic bag. The latter being detrimental to a lot of marine life, especially sea turtles.
Sea turtles will feed on jellyfish or on bits and pieces off the reef. To most turtles, the allure of a floating piece of plastic is hard to resist. Once they have taken a bite or two and realize what it is, regurgitating this harmful item is nearly impossible for the turtle. The bag will at times get stuck in their digestive tract and cause the sea turtle to slowly starve to death. Balloons have a similar effect on sea turtles and other sea creatures. The importance of properly recycling these items, or better yet, live a life without the use of these items, is an important step towards a better and healthier Earth.
Throughout the dive we would encounter small examples of man’s work at play. A upturned brain coral, the likelihood of anchoring on the reef. Invasive species of lionfish. Fishing line coiled dangerously across the reef — another great hazard for marine life that can easily become entangled. During every reef clean up we do there is always some strange and unique item we come across on the reef. This time it was a battery charger with its poisonous battery laying across the reef. Thankfully, these bits and pieces of trash are few and far between on our reefs. Good samaritans are always nearby to pick up anything that doesn’t belong.
On our second dive we headed closer to the inlet to dive two artificial reefs. The Toy Box and Playpen are often covered in fishing line and other bits of trash that make its way out the inlet. Reaching the bottom, we were quickly working away at the countless feet of fishing line.
As we zig-zagged the area, we came across a six foot nurse shark who was the unfortunate victim of some of this indiscriminate killer. Stuck in its mouth was a four inch fishing hook attached to 1/8 inch steel leader. A foot back, a second, four inch hook laid precariously on the reef, followed by more than forty feet of 100+ test-pound monofilament line. This fishing line was wrapped throughout the artificial reef trapping the nurse shark to the area. In fact, one of our dive guides had thought he had seen this same shark a couple of days earlier in the same area not realizing it was caught.
Left to its own device, this poor creature would certainly die. The onus was on us to help this creature. The difficult part was how to do so without harming ourselves or the animal. The very thick steel leader would require some extra time to remove. Most nurse sharks when approached are very quick to leave. With this in mind I began by cutting off a good amount of the thick monofilament line. As we approached the shark, perhaps out of exhaustion or sensing we were here to help, it did little to flee.
It swam a short span of distance and settled under a concrete culvert. As I approached from the back, it seemed as though it would not flee. I began by cutting the extra hook and 1/8 inch steel leader with my clippers. Considering whether to remove the hook in its mouth, I decided against it for my safety and the sharks. For if it had bitten me and locked its jaws, as most nurse sharks tend to do, this would turn out to be a bad day for me and a worse day for the shark as it would have to killed in order to release its grip from me. Not exactly my idea of a good Earth Day.
Thankfully this steel hook was caught on the outer edge of its mouth — the perfect place for the hook to eventually rust and fall off. So I reached as close as I could, the shark never attempting to leave or cause me any harm, and cut the rest of the steel leader just inches from its mouth. The shark eventually went on her way.
This shark was lucky, but in my twenty years of diving I have seen way too many animals who have not been so lucky such as the baby green sea turtle above who ingested a plastic bag. Sea turtles losing limbs or life to fishing line or plastic bags, a rope and anchor wrapped around the tail of a mother humpback whale, hundred year old corals destroyed in seconds by anchors, delicate sea fans ripped apart by fishing line or divers with poor buoyancy skills. I’ve experienced a lot of sad moments in the ocean. These experiences have had their positive effects on me… I can not swim passed an area with fishing line or any other type of litter and not do everything in my power to remove it.
Thankfully, there are a lot of people out there who care, and through our words and imagery we can help educate those who aren’t aware of the dangers something as simple as a plastic trash bag can have on our planet. This is what I think we celebrate with Earth Day. A reminder that we must take care of our one and only home. The onus is on us to become responsible stewards of this incredible planet — to make EVERY DAY Earth Day.
A special thanks to everyone who joined us on our Earth Day event and to everyone around the world doing the same. Everyone can make a difference!