Volunteers were pleasantly surprised when a shore dive cleanup event uncovered only one eighth the amount of debris of prior dives.
Divers retrieved 35 pounds of trash from the Gulf waters at Spanish Rocks Reef in Holmes Beach on Saturday as part of a Dive Against Debris event sponsored by Tampa Bay Green Consortium. Past shore dive cleanup efforts in Tampa Bay recently have removed, on average, 200 to 400 pounds a trash.
Diver Adam Hange said the difference is definitely noticeable.
"You have to think that if we are seeing less trash, we are heading in the right direction," he said. "People are more aware of their surroundings and picking up trash. The goal is to find no trash."
Paul Costin, who teamed up with Hange on the dive, thought it was an easy clean-up.
"I thought it was more of a recreational dive than a clean-up, which was nice," Costin said.
Other recent dives at Fort De Soto Park found much more debris underwater.
Saturday's dive was especially important to the coral that lives on the reef, Costin said.
"The coral was actually alive," he said. "The fish feed off the coral, so if you have all the debris, it will break it off, and then it dies."
More than 30 volunteers took part in Saturday's clean-up effort, including 22 divers. Divers ranged from members of local dive clubs to amateur divers, who dove in pairs, picking up everything from fishing lines and ropes to sunglasses, cell phones and a makeshift anchor made from a Sponge Bob sock. Oxygen tanks were donated by Scuba Quest in Bradenton and World of Water, south of Tampa.
Organizers were pleasantly surprised with the reduction of trash they found.
"To our surprise and joy, the reef was very clean, " Tampa Bay Green Consortium president Dan Fisher
said. "So we are happy."
He attributes the change to efforts made by local dive shops.
"Over a period of time, the divers who dive here at Spanish Rocks are more aware and helping in bringing in trash," Fisher said.
The sea turtle nesting season was one of the reasons behind this dive, according to Fisher. Sea turtles can get caught in fishing lines and rope, especially along the reef, he said.
"We clean it up so they don't get entangled," Fisher said. "We don't want their voyage to get interrupted."
Additionally, half of the trash they pull up is recyclable.
Mark Auchtuna, of St. Petersburg, was among the kayakers helping to keep boats away during the dive.
"I'm always trying to clean up," Auchtuna said. "It's an excuse to dive and help."
While Saturday's dive found less trash than others, there have been times Auchtuna dove and the amount of trash is "nasty," he said.
Clean-up dives are important, Auchtuna said.
"Everybody can walk along the beach and pick up trash, but you've got to have divers underwater to cleanup the Gulf."
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.