Now don’t get me wrong here, diving the Lembeh Strait was AWESOME (and you can read all about it in this post), but there is another side to paradise. It wasn’t all turquoise water, fresh air, and swaying palm trees. As you would expect from any body of water close to populated places, especially heavy industrial areas, the shorelines and bottoms were littered with trash of all shapes and sizes. There is no escaping the mess we humans leave in our wake.
The beach at our lodge was swept daily of washed up garbage but, interestingly, the same effort was never made underwater to keep the dive sites clean. Granted, a lot of the rubbish has become home to various creatures looking for shelter. Tin cans for example – I never once saw a tin can underwater without a puffer fish living in it. Not once. A glass bottle kept one coconut octopus safe from predators, while another dragged around pieces of plastic to build a fort around itself when threatened. The dive boats steered carefully around the strait, turning frequently to avoid hunks of trash. On a few dive sites nearest to shore, I’d look up on my ascent to see the surface just littered with junk and an oily film. It was quite the dance trying to find a clear spot to surface without getting oil or plastic bits in my hair.
The dive guides earn their living, and often support many other family members off their income, by ensuring guests see everything on their lists. Show the people what they came to see, and you’ll get the best tips. They worked hard, eyes peeled to make sure we always saw what we asked for. Cleaning up everyone else’s mess was hardly a priority. It wasn’t a priority for anyone else we dove with either. I wonder if it bothered others as it bothered us, or if seeing garbage underwater has just become such a common sight that it practically goes unnoticed to most.
Warren and I still carry our mesh bags from Ocean Sports on every dive, and make frequent use of them to leave sites in better condition than we found them. We are surface from nearly every dive with something to empty out of our pockets. Lembeh was no exception. At one site there was such an incredible amount of litter that I couldn’t even focus on anything else. I stopped searching for critters, or going to see what our guide Aso had found for us, and just focused all my attention on collecting as much junk as I could. It was so bad that I had to prioritize what kind of litter I’d remove, because I could only hold a fraction of it. I went for plastic bags, empty plastic bottles and anything that could cause entanglement, such as ropes and fishing line. My bag was full in no time so then I filled Warren’s. The best part though, was that once our guide realized what I was doing he started helping out too. He’d point out a shrimp to Warren with one hand and pass me a piece of plastic with the other. Awesome!
Was my little part enough in the face of the ever-growing marine debris problem? Definitely not. Is it a start? Absolutely. As divers we are privileged to visit some of the most spectacular and remote places this planet has to offer. We are uniquely positioned to get a first hand look at the issue of trash in our oceans and waterways and therefore uniquely positioned to do something about it. Check out Project Aware’s website here to learn more about the issue, and the Dive Against Debris movement. Get involved and be informed. When you go diving somewhere, anywhere, take along a bag to collect the garbage you come across. It takes only seconds but if we all do it, it makes a huge impact. Be a positive role model for other divers. Choose dive operators that share your values, like those who have earned the 100% AWARE distinction and the PADI Green Star Award.
Project Aware still says it best – “Protecting our ocean planet, one dive at a time”