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Marine Life & Conservation

Scuba Divers In Monterey Dive Against Debris



Earlier this month, Kevin and Melissa Barry were diving near the Monterey breakwater when Melissa found a small, velvet-lined box with an elegant latch. Inside was a plastic bag.

“It was a dog’s ashes,” says Kevin, a San Jose-based scuba instructor.

He was surprised to encounter a pet’s remains, but he had come to expect the unexpected during local dives.

“Of all the places I’ve been, I like Monterey the most,” he says. “Every dive, you see something new.”

Gazing at the shimmering blue waters of Monterey Bay, it’s easy to forget what’s hidden here. But those who plunge beneath the ocean surface know that a box of ashes is only one bizarre example of the human footprint on the seafloor.

Barry’s parents co-own the San Jose dive shop Any Water Sports, and they have long been aware of the underwater pollution problem. As early as 1990, they were organizing “garbage dives” and offering prizes to local divers who collected the most (or the most unusual) trash.

Today, Barry follows his parents’ example by participating in Project AWARE’s ‘Dive Against Debris’ program.

Founded in 2011, ‘Dive Against Debris’ is responsible for the removal of over 400,000 pounds of trash from the world’s oceans.

“Trash in our oceans doesn’t do anything good, and none of it belongs there,” says Ania Budziak, Project AWARE’s associate director. “Scuba divers are equipped with some unique skills. They can breathe underwater and are the only people who can really remove trash.”

Barry leads local Dive Against Debris events annually. The dives tend to draw about 20-30 volunteers with one common goal: to gather as much underwater trash as they can. Afterward, they record when and where each piece was recovered. The data is entered into the Dive Against Debris website, where it falls into the hands of Budziak and her colleagues.

“There are cars, there are shopping carts, there are beds,” says Budziak, recalling some notable items. “I don’t think we really lose this stuff. A lot of it must have been dumped.”

Project AWARE has been gathering debris data for years, but until recently, organizers hadn’t found a good way to summarize and share the data with the locals who gather it. “We didn’t have any way of telling the story of trash comprehensively,” Budziak says.

Now, Project AWARE is compiling the data into the first-ever interactive map of underwater trash. The website, launched April 22, allows divers worldwide to see their uploaded data.

Budziak is optimistic this one-of-a-kind map will help convey where underwater litter is concentrated.

“This is not an effort to scientifically assess how much trash is underwater,” she says. “But it is an attempt to visualize what divers see underwater.”

James Watanabe, a biology lecturer at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, sees a bright side.

“The problem of trash in the water depends on the kind of trash,” explains Watanabe, who often leads students in underwater classwork. “Big things with hard surfaces get disguised pretty quickly. Everything here is so prolific in the way it grows. Some pieces of trash become habitats.”

Underwater litter tends to be especially problematic near Monterey Harbor and around Fisherman’s Wharf, he adds. But even there, conditions have been improving.

“It used to be that when we collected octopuses for class, we would dive at the marina and pick up as many beer bottles as we could. Almost every one would have an octopus [inside],” he says. “Now, though, there are fewer bottles.”

Watanabe warns that trash is only a small drop in an ocean of marine conservation issues.

“Trash is the easy stuff, and we need to talk about the hard stuff, the complex stuff,” he says. “But if [picking up trash] changes people’s perspectives on where we are in the biological world, it’s a good thing.”

Changing perspectives is what Dive Against Debris is all about. Budziak says her next step is to survey volunteers to assess whether the project has had any lasting influence on their views or lifestyles.

Barry thinks it probably has.

“It’s kind of a subconscious thing,” he says. “Now, whenever I see a piece of trash, I pick it up.”

Visit to join a Dive Against Debris event or check out the new map of underwater trash.



Marine Life & Conservation

The Big Shark Pledge: Shark Trust’s new campaign kicks off with a call for support



With the ink still drying on last week’s landmark listing of nearly 100 species of sharks on Appendix II of CITES, the Shark Trust insists that this is not the time for shark conservation to take a break. The UK-based NGO this week launches its biggest-ever concerted campaign to tackle the overfishing of oceanic sharks. They are calling on people across the world to join the call for stricter controls on high seas fisheries.

The Big Shark Pledge is at the heart of an ambitious set of campaign actions. Working to secure science-based catch limits on all sharks and rays affected by the international high seas fishing fleet. The pledge will build the largest campaigning community in shark and ray conservation history to support a raft of policy actions over the vital years ahead.

Many of our best known and much-loved sharks make their home on the high seas. In our shared ocean, these oceanic sharks and rays face a very real threat from a huge international fleet of industrial-scale fishing vessels. Research published in early 2021 confirmed that over three-quarters of oceanic sharks and rays are now at risk of extinction due to the destructive impact of overfishing. They have declined by 71% over the last 50 years.

The Shark Trust is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year and has a long history of securing positive changes for sharks, skates and rays. The Big Shark Pledge will build on the success of their NoLimits? campaign which underpinned landmark catch limits on Blue Sharks and Shortfin Mako in the North Atlantic.

While the listing of so many species on the CITES trade agreement is certainly a positive step, there remains a huge challenge in ensuring that sustainable practices are embedded in international fisheries.” says Shark Trust Director of conservation, Ali Hood. “Sharks on the high seas face extraordinary pressure from excessive fishing practices. This has to be addressed through international agreements such as those secured for Blues and makos.”

There is hope and a feeling of momentum in the shark conservation community. Just last week, in addition to the new CITES listings, the Shark Trust, working with partners in the Shark League, secured the first-ever international quota for South Atlantic Mako at ICCAT meeting in Portugal. The new campaign from the Shark Trust aims to push forwards from here, engaging a wave of support through the Big Shark Pledge to bolster policy action.

This will be a long-term international and collaborative effort. Forging a pathway to rebuild populations of high-seas sharks and rays. By putting science at the heart of shark conservation and fisheries management. And making the vital changes needed to set populations on the road to recovery.

Shark Trust CEO Paul Cox says of the Big Shark Pledge “It’s designed to give everyone who cares about the future of sharks the chance to add their voice to effective and proven conservation action. By adding their name to the Pledge, supporters will be given opportunities to apply pressure at key moments to influence change.

Click here to sign the Big Shark Pledge

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Gear News

Fourth Element X Sea Shepherd



This year on Black Friday, fourth element announced their new partnership with Sea Shepherd, encouraging people to move away from mindless purchasing and to opt-in to supporting something powerful.

For 40 years Sea Shepherd, a leading non-profit organisation, has been patrolling the high seas with the sole mission to protect and conserve the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. They work to defend all marine wildlife, from whales and dolphins, to sharks and rays, to fish and krill, without exception.

Inspired by Sea Shepherd’s mission, fourth element have created a collection of fourth element X Sea Shepherd limited edition products for ocean lovers and protectors, with 15% of every sale going to the Sea Shepherd fund to help continue to drive conservation efforts globally.

“Working with Sea Shepherd gives fourth element the opportunity to join forces with one of the largest active conservation organisations in the world to try to catalyse change in people’s attitudes and behaviour. Fourth Element’s products are designed, developed and packaged with the intention of minimising our impact on the ocean environment, and with this partnership, we will be supporting the work of Sea Shepherd, in particular in their work on dealing with the twin threats of Ghost fishing nets and plastic pollution.”

Jim Standing fourth element co-founder

Read fourth element’s Sea Shepherd Opinion Piece HERE

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