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Marine Life & Conservation

Dumping our waste at Sea

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No matter where you are in the world, if you are into diving then it is always a great pleasure to get wet and look for wildlife or perhaps a new wreck. But sometimes the whole experience can be ruined by other people’s garbage. You can see it floating on the surface or just hanging in mid water trying to decide whether to up or go down. And there on the sea bed is more rubbish. Tyres, car batteries, prams, plastic in all shapes and sizes… the list goes on. Occasionally you put what you can in your pocket and bring it up for disposal into a convenient bin. Most times it just gets left there to become a permanent fixture of the environment or worse, becomes entwined into the food chain. Often we see animals that are caught up in garbage or have rusty fishing hooks caught in their bodies.

Do you ever wish someone would clear it all up? Well, there is a man who went a step further than just wishing. His name is Captain Donald Voss, he’s based on the east coast of Florida and runs the Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc., operating through funding from organizations such as NOAA, South Florida Water Management District, West Marine, Sebastian Inlet District and FPAT.

Jeff: I wrote to Don and asked him exactly what it was he did. 

Don:  We use volunteers to address the massive issue of marine debris, dumping, littering and just plain conservation of our natural resources for the use and entertainment of future generations. For water-based operations, we have a database of 400+ volunteers with boats, time and/or diving equipment who give of themselves to remove this mess.  For land-based operations, we have a growing core group of about 150 kayakers and SUP’ers who come out and swarm the islands and our boats assist them with the removal and transporting of the debris.  Our volunteers do this because I have asked them to help and we throw a pretty cool party afterward to thank them. Many of our crew are formerly Navy SEALS and just old divers who find a sense of accomplishment from giving back. Younger people like the enthusiasm I offer.  Most come because our group is allowed to dive places no diver has been since the ’70’s.  I point out you get to second base with nature when you dive our cleanup events.  I view myself as sort of a Pied Piper.

Jeff: Why do you do this?

Don:  In 1969, I was blown up in Vietnam and told I would lose my legs.  A few days later, the doctors decided my legs were of no harm to my survival and set the broken bones.  After a year of traction and rest, I was released and sent home to decide if I was going to be a crutches guy or a wheelchair guy. About the same time, a horse broke his leg in the Kentucky Derby.  Rather than shoot him, they tried a new technique of placing the horse in a sling into a pool and allow him to swim and mend his leg, gravity-free and then release him out to stud.  Upon hearing this, I decided this was exactly what I wanted…. to be placed out as a stud :).  I moved to the Florida Keys and began swimming, then snorkelling and finally diving.  I regained my strength and now I walk and dive and do all things with little restrictions from my 100% disability.  I firmly believe I owe my life to the water and I therefore use this platform pay-back.  I left the keys and returned to Ohio where I raised my kids and ran a huge not-for-profit recycling centre and also travelled the world diving. It did not matter where I was, I was always picking up debris and bringing it back to the boat for proper disposal.  I now have over 14,000 dives.  Eventually, when I retired and moved to Ft Pierce, I was asked to use my underwater photographic skills to determine if there was debris in the Sebastian Inlet.  I went in and looked around and formed this company.  The rest is history.

Jeff: How long have you been doing this?

Don:  I have been a conservationist and environmentalist my whole life. We formed our debris removal project in June of 2001 and used several base groups as sponsors for the first 3 years, but the in-fighting and greed caused them to split up. We, the divers that actually did the work, split free and formed what is now MCII.  So, we say 12 years.

Jeff:  Obviously you have noticed a change in the local environment where you have been cleaning up, but have you noticed any change in local attitudes to the disposal of waste?

Don:  It took until 2008 for the locals to really sit up and take notice. Up until then, we just operated in the Sebastian Inlet where we had received permission to dive. For those early years, people threw bottles at us while we dove and cursed us thinking we were stealing lobsters.  We were able to muster local news crews, marine patrols and fire rescue units to assist and used our efforts as a mock training and rescue session and these events melded well together.  We were crushed by three hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 and besides the overwhelming set back this caused, this really opened things up.  FEMA and governmental agencies were all over the area and minds opened.  There were (are) over 200 missing boats, several missing marinas and loads of missing houses and garages.  I was lucky enough to gain favour with many mayors, especially Bob Benton of Ft Pierce and some high ranking officials of FEMA and this allowed much needed exposure.  In 2009, assisted by a super smart Board member we applied for a NOAA Marine Debris and Habitat Restoration grant and received the only diver-driven grant of the 8 selected that year. With that first $200,000, MCII, has expanded and operates 200 days a year (+/- weather permitting) covering all the waters, inlets, islands and shoreline in a 90+ mile area covering four counties. We have parlayed our first grant and received numerous others, boosting our equipment, supplies, and public outreach to this larger area.  For our efforts, Loggerhead Marine Life Centre’s Blue Friends, selected me as Ambassador of the Year for our work saving turtles….they are the premiere turtle rescue hospital in America.  In 2012, I was also selected as Oceana’s International Ocean Hero.  Our town, Ft Pierce, won the Toyota/Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation in 2012.  Our waters here have cleaned up so well, that the County has reopened their once massive oyster industry and we are having our 2nd Annual Oyster fest in April.  I have spoken to over 11,000 children over the last three years and initiated the start-up of 7 other groups such as MCII around the state.  I state in my presentations that, “in 2001, I was viewed as a Carpetbagger from Ohio coming here to tell ya’ll how to deal with garbage.  Now I am more like a Chea pet and am growing on you.” We are not without our detractors, but we continue to remove huge amounts of debris with each event and are now well past the 350,000 pound mark. MCII has over 28 Proclamations and dozens of letters of support from POTUS, former Presidents, Governors, congress people, Mayors, Commissioners and civil leaders.  Our efforts are not only being felt, they are being seen.  Removal of debris reduces the back-log of silt and allows it to flow naturally.  When it becomes trapped in debris, it breaks free during storms or high winds and clouds the waters, falls upon sea grasses and chokes them out.  Our water is noticeably clear and testing far better than waters not addressing debris issues. We now are received as celebrities and school kids flock to see us and become Water Warriors.

Jeff:  What kind of people come on the Debris removal sessions? What age groups are they?

Don:  All people come to our events.  I have a blind diver, I have several disabled divers, I have kids from 16 to adults over 70.  Our events aren’t just for divers. We use captains, boats, deck hands, schleppers, shore “bubble watchers”, communications teams, kayakers, SUP’ers, jet skiers, we transport people to islands to walk and collect. We have sorters, weighers, party set-up help, people to give presentations, gather supplies, and send out press releases and dozens of other cool jobs.  We have every kind of person there is and we are always looking to engage more…mainly kids.  Kids will grab this concept and work hard to make it right.

Jeff:  What happens to all the waste?

Don:  This is the biggest part of what we do.  We separate the debris into groupings:  bottles and cans; plastics; fishing line and nets; fishing hardware; anchors, chain and rope; construction debris; tires and batteries; and misc.  We weigh it. We separate out organics and living critters… we release them. We remove the cool encrusted fishing poles and reels and set them aside along with some debris we use for displays and presentations. We then open our trash for the public to pick through.  Local fishing die-hards go for lead and lures, dive shops pick the lead out, others line up for anchors, chain and rope, lots of people grab bottles and cans and campers take the wood and burnables.  What we have left we dispose of properly.  We have great success reducing the debris down over 60%.  When local plastics recyclers are geared up, we do far better at reduction.

Jeff:  Are there any laws in place to stop future waste disposal? Are they enforced if there are?

Don: There are laws and they do not enforce them.  Cruise ships and cargo ships are the worst.  We need to catch them and then sue them to get any results.

There are many large businesses who could be Pro-active and support the litter removal caused by their products, but not so much. You would think environmental and other similar agencies would be falling over themselves heralding our efforts and results, but, not so much.  We have received some funding from SFWMD, but hardly any other support or recognition. However, local municipalities have become very strong supporters and advocates.  They have issued restrictions on plastic throw away service ware at outdoor events and put in-place biodegradable product usage to replace them.  We have pressed to have solid lids on all trash can to stop the darned birds from littering.  We have engaged the local marine patrols to “place a moratorium” of fines for littering on Spoil Islands and make announcements of same while we set-up our cleanup operations and engage the public out there.  As they weren’t fining them anyway, this is easy and the net gain should be we can slow down or stop some of this obvious littering. We are engaging law enforcement to enforce the laws that exist. We are hopeful.  Using the “baby steps” approach, and not finger-pointing at boaters, fisher people, campers and water enthusiasts, we have gained some gradual support.  Our divers, our logo flags and T-shirts have a trending value and Captain Don is always out there getting recognition and representing the efforts.  This has helped buoy the efforts.

Jeff:  Do you know if other groups have seen what you do and have taken up the initiative?

Don:  Yes, many groups have popped up as a result and we consult with coastal communities all the time.  Sea Angles, Ocean Hour, Loggerhead Blue Friends, Ocean Rehab, REEF, Masked Marlins, Surfriders, and numerous dive shops and local groups are much more active now they are supported and accepted.  Many volunteer groups have stepped up and conduct beach cleanups on a weekly or monthly basis. We have many groups we supply with mesh collection bags that are donated to us. We are thrilled at the movement and acceptance of what should be just plain commonsense. The message is clear, our photos and displays are harsh, bold, frightening and stark.  We are killing what was left to us to protect. Fish and birds eat debris and it kills them and eventually, it will poison us when we eat those critters.  Our motto:  “Out of site doesn’t make it right” says it all.

Further details about Capt Don and the MCII can be found at http://www.marinecleanupinitiativeinc.org/

(Next month we are looking at the Plastic Oceans project http://www.plasticoceans.net/the-documentary/)

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

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Smart Shark Diving: The Importance of Awareness Below the Surface

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By: Wael Bakr

Introduction to Shark Diving Awareness‍

In the realm of marine life, few creatures captivate our interest, and sometimes our fear, like the shark. This fascination often finds a home in the hearts of those who venture beneath the waves, particularly scuba divers who love shark diving. It’s here that shark awareness takes the spotlight. Shark awareness is not just about understanding these magnificent creatures; it’s about fostering respect, dispelling fear, and promoting conservation. As Jacques Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love.” And to love something, one must first understand it.

Shark awareness is not a mere fascination; it’s a responsibility that we owe to our oceans and their inhabitants. From the smallest reef shark to the colossal great white, each species plays a crucial role in the underwater ecosystem. Our understanding and appreciation of these creatures can help ensure their survival.

However, shark awareness isn’t just about protecting the sharks; it’s also about protecting ourselves. As scuba divers, we share the underwater world with these magnificent creatures. Understanding them allows us to dive safely and responsibly, enhancing our experiences beneath the waves.

Importance of Shark Awareness in Scuba Diving

The relevance of shark awareness in scuba diving cannot be overstated. Sharks, like all marine life, are an integral part of the underwater ecosystem. Their presence and behavior directly influence our experiences as divers. By understanding sharks, we can better appreciate their role in the ocean, anticipate their actions, and reduce potential risks.

Awareness is crucial for safety when shark diving. Despite their often-misunderstood reputation, sharks are generally not a threat to humans. However, like any wild animal, they can pose risks if provoked or threatened. By understanding shark behavior, we can identify signs of stress or aggression and adjust our actions accordingly. This not only protects us but also respects the sharks and their natural behaviors.

Moreover, shark awareness enriches our diving experiences. Observing sharks in their natural habitat is a thrilling experience. Understanding them allows us to appreciate this spectacle fully. It’s not just about seeing a shark; it’s about understanding its role in the ecosystem, its behavior, and its interaction with other marine life. This depth of knowledge adds a new dimension to our diving experiences.

Understanding Shark Behavior: The Basics

The first step in shark awareness is understanding shark behavior. Sharks are not the mindless predators they are often portrayed to be. They are complex creatures with unique behaviors and communication methods. Understanding these basics can significantly enhance our interactions with them.

Sharks communicate primarily through body language. By observing their movements, we can gain insights into their mood and intentions. For example, a relaxed shark swims with slow, fluid movements. In contrast, a stressed or agitated shark may exhibit rapid, jerky movements or other signs of discomfort such as gill flaring.

Sharks also use their bodies to express dominance or assertiveness. A dominant shark may swim with its pectoral fins pointed downwards, while a submissive shark may swim with its fins flattened against its body. Understanding these signals can help us interpret shark behavior accurately and respond appropriately.

How Shark Awareness Enhances Scuba Diving Experiences

Shark awareness significantly enhances our scuba diving experiences. It transforms encounters with sharks from mere sightings into meaningful interactions. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it’s the power to appreciate, respect, and safely interact with one of the ocean’s most fascinating inhabitants.

A thorough understanding of behavior when shark diving allows us to interpret their actions and responses accurately. It enables us to recognize signs of stress or aggression and adjust our behavior accordingly. This not only ensures our safety but also promotes responsible interactions that respect the sharks and their natural behaviors.

Furthermore, shark awareness adds a new layer of depth to our diving experiences. It’s one thing to see a shark; it’s another to understand its behavior, its role in the ecosystem, and its interactions with other marine life. This depth of understanding enriches our experiences and fosters a deeper appreciation for our underwater world.

Misconceptions About Sharks: Busting the Myths

Unfortunately, sharks are often misunderstood, feared, and even demonized. These misconceptions can be detrimental, not only to our experiences as divers but also to shark conservation efforts. As part of shark awareness, it’s important to debunk these myths and present sharks in their true light.

First and foremost, sharks are not mindless killing machines. They are complex creatures with unique behaviors and communication methods. They are not interested in humans as prey and, in most cases, prefer to avoid us.

Secondly, not all sharks are dangerous. Out of over 500 species of sharks, only a handful are considered potentially harmful to humans. Most sharks are harmless, and even those that can pose a threat are unlikely to attack unless provoked.

Lastly, sharks are not invincible. They are vulnerable to a host of threats, most notably human activities such as overfishing and habitat destruction. They need our understanding and protection, not our fear and persecution.

Shark Behavior: What to Expect When Scuba Diving

When scuba diving, it’s important to know what to expect from sharks. Most encounters with sharks are peaceful and awe-inspiring. However, as with any wild animal, it’s essential to be prepared and understand their behavior.

Most sharks are shy and cautious creatures. They are likely to observe you from a distance, often circling around to get a better look. This is normal behavior and not a sign of aggression.

However, if a shark becomes agitated or feels threatened, it may exhibit signs of stress such as rapid, jerky movements or gill flaring. In such cases, it’s essential to remain calm, avoid sudden movements, and slowly retreat if possible.

Remember, every encounter with a shark is an opportunity to observe and learn. With understanding and respect, these encounters can be safe, enriching, and truly unforgettable experiences.

Practical Tips for Shark Awareness During Scuba Diving

Being aware of sharks during scuba diving is about more than just understanding their behavior. It’s about applying this knowledge in practical ways to ensure safe and respectful interactions. Here are a few tips for shark awareness during scuba diving.

Firstly, always observe sharks from a safe distance. Avoid approaching them directly or making sudden movements, as this can startle or threaten them.

Secondly, never attempt to touch or feed sharks. This can disrupt their natural behavior and potentially put you at risk.

Lastly, always respect the sharks and their environment. Avoid disturbing their habitat or interfering with their natural behaviors. Remember, we are visitors in their world.

Promoting Shark Conservation through Scuba Diving

Scuba diving offers a unique platform for promoting shark conservation. As divers, we have the privilege of witnessing the beauty and complexity of sharks firsthand. We can share these experiences with others, fostering understanding and appreciation for these magnificent creatures.

Moreover, we can actively contribute to shark conservation. Many diving operators offer opportunities to participate in shark research and conservation initiatives. By participating in these programs, we can help ensure the survival of sharks for future generations.

Lastly, we can advocate for sharks. By sharing our knowledge and experiences, we can help dispel misconceptions about sharks and promote their protection. Every voice counts in the fight for shark conservation.

Courses and Resources for Shark Awareness and Behavior

There are many resources available for those interested in shark awareness and behavior. Scuba Diving International as well as numerous conservation-based organizations offer courses and workshops on shark biology, behavior, and conservation. These courses provide in-depth knowledge and practical skills for interacting with sharks responsibly and safely. From courses like our Marine Ecosystems Awareness Specialty and our Advanced Adventure Certification provide you with the information you need to tackle this new challenge!

Additionally, there are many online resources available, including websites, blogs, and forums dedicated to shark awareness and conservation. These platforms offer a wealth of information and a community of like-minded individuals passionate about sharks.

I encourage anyone interested in sharks to explore these resources, to sign up for one of SDI’s courses call your local dive center or instructor or reach out to your regional representative/ World HQ to find where the class is being taught near you. Knowledge is the first step towards understanding, appreciation, and conservation.

Conclusion: The Role of Shark Awareness in Future Scuba Diving Experiences

As we look to the future, the role of shark awareness in scuba diving will only continue to grow. As our understanding of these magnificent creatures deepens, so too will our appreciation and respect for them. This knowledge will shape our interactions with sharks, enhancing our experiences and promoting responsible and respectful behavior.

Shark awareness is more than just an interest; it’s a responsibility. It’s a commitment to understanding, respecting, and protecting one of the ocean’s most fascinating inhabitants. And it’s a journey that I invite all divers to embark on.

As we dive into the blue, let’s dive with awareness. Let’s dive with respect. And let’s dive with a commitment to understand and protect our underwater world. For in the end, the ocean’s health is our health, and every creature within it, including the sharks, plays a crucial role in maintaining this delicate balance.

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The Ocean Cleanup & Coldplay announce limited edition LP made using river plastic

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  • Limited ‘Notebook Edition’ LP release of new Coldplay album ‘Moon Music’ made using river plastic removed from the Rio Las Vacas, Guatemala by The Ocean Cleanup

  • First collaborative product the latest step in Coldplay’s support for global non-profit

  • Innovative product partnerships essential for long-term success of The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to rid the oceans of plastic

The Ocean Cleanup and Coldplay have confirmed that a limited ‘Notebook Edition’ LP release of the band’s album ‘Moon Music’ will be manufactured using plastic intercepted by The Ocean Cleanup from the Rio Las Vacas, Guatemala.

The mission of The Ocean Cleanup is to rid the oceans of plastic. To achieve this, the non-profit operates a dual strategy: cleaning up legacy plastic in the oceans and deploying Interceptors to capture trash in rivers and stop it entering the oceans.

Today’s announcement with Coldplay of this Notebook Edition LP is an example of the innovative product partnerships The Ocean Cleanup creates to give this plastic a new life in sustainable and durable products, ensuring the plastic never re-enters the marine environment.

coldplay

The Ocean Cleanup project deployed Interceptor 006 in the Rio Las Vacas in 2023 to prevent plastic emissions into the Gulf of Honduras. Interceptor 006 made significant impact and captured large quantities of plastic – which has now been sorted, blended, tested and used to manufacture Coldplay’s limited edition physical release. The final product consists of 70% river plastic intercepted by The Ocean Cleanup and 30% recycled waste plastic bottles from other sources.The successful production of the Notebook Edition LP using intercepted river plastic marks an exciting new phase in Coldplay’s broad and long-standing support for The Ocean Cleanup. Coldplay provide financial support for the non-profit’s cleaning operations, sponsor Interceptor 005 in the Klang River, Malaysia (which the band named ‘Neon Moon I’) and share The Ocean Cleanup’s mission with millions of their fans during their record-breaking Music of the Spheres tour.Coldplay and The Ocean Cleanup collaborated closely during the intensive testing and quality control process, alongside processing and manufacturing partners Biosfera GT, Compuestos y Derivados S.A., Morssinkhof and Sonopress.Having proven the potential of their partnership, The Ocean Cleanup and Coldplay will continue to explore new and innovative ways to combine their impact and accelerate progress in the largest cleanup in history.

coldplay

“Coldplay is an incredible partner for us and I’m thrilled that our plastic catch has helped bring Moon Music to life.” said Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. “Ensuring the plastic we catch never re-enters the marine environment is essential to our mission, and I’m excited to see how we’ll continue innovating with Coldplay and our other partners to rid the oceans of plastic – together.”

coldplay

About the Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup is an international non-profit that develops and scales technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. They aim to achieve this goal through a dual strategy: intercepting in rivers to stop the flow and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean. For the latter, The Ocean Cleanup develops and deploys large-scale systems to efficiently concentrate the plastic for periodic removal. This plastic is tracked and traced to certify claims of origin when recycling it into new products. To curb the tide via rivers, The Ocean Cleanup has developed Interceptor™ Solutions to halt and extract riverine plastic before it reaches the ocean. As of June 2024, the non-profit has collected over 12 million kilograms (26.4 million pounds) of plastic from aquatic ecosystems around the world. Founded in 2013 by Boyan Slat, The Ocean Cleanup now employs a broadly multi-disciplined team of approximately 140. 

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