The third Saturday in September is International Coastal Cleanup Day. Millions of people head out en masse to pick up litter on beaches, in estuaries, and at other coastal sites. Divers around the world venture into locations that are heavily trafficked by humans, and pick up litter in the underwater environment. Last year we attended a cleanup dive in Murray Harbour on Robben Island, arranged by OMSAC. It was so enjoyable and so well organised that we decided to join OMSAC again this year, in cleaning up Hout Bay harbour.
We’ve actually been itching to check out what lies beneath the waters of Hout Bay harbour for some time. It’s a popular launch site during the summer months, and has a pleasant paved parking area with marina and mountain views. There are some hole in the wall cafes and restaurants around to provide expensive and unhealthy fare to the desperately hungry diver, and – for the non divers – the nearby Bay Harbour Market (a recently established market with much to recommend it apart from its preponderance of insufferably smug boys in tight, tapered jeans and ridiculous hats, who think that having a tufty beard at age 25 makes them seem moody and introspective – eventually someone will tell them it looks stupid, I hope). I digress.
Rant about obnoxious Cape Town subcultures aside, upwards (my estimate based on counting heads in the group photo!) of 80 divers converged on the parking area below NSRI Station 8 in Hout Bay harbour. After receiving our goodie bags, with an awesome Electrolux-sponsored golf shirt, a cap, a water bottle, and some sweets (I hardly saw mine except as they disappeard down Tony’s gullet!) we divided into groups of 10-15 and received coloured tags to put on our BCDs. The idea was that the groups would dive together, which reflected either extreme optimisim about the conditions underwater, or was just for show!
A short briefing held upstairs in the NSRI building informed us that we would enter the water off the floating jetty in the marina, and then swim under the jetty, across the inner part of the harbour, and exit at the slipway. We were to use green mesh bags to collect the rubbish we found, using judgment when it was already inhabited or encrusted with sea life.
Like all harbours (because there is no water movement, as Tony explained to his ignorant wife), Hout Bay harbour is very silty, and the slightest movement stirred up great white clouds that reduced the visibility to almost nothing. Despite this, and despite a strong fear of receiving a Japanese haircut from a passing boat, Bernita and I had an exhilarating dive after losing the rest of the group almost instantly upon descent. We found all manner of items, but mostly plastic bags and a few bottles. I’ll write about the dive in a separate post.
We surfaced near the slipway, and had to wait while a boat full of poachers (not kidding) got themselves organised and puttered off to plunder the seas around the corner. After reporting to the controllers that we were out of the water, we deposited our (smelly) bags of trash with the rest of the goods that the other divers had retrieved. Some of it was awesome stuff – several pool pumps and boat/car batteries, lots of piping, and even a GPS/fish finder unit that must have made its owner weep bitter tears as it sank expensively beneath the water.
The prize giving was held in the NSRI common room again, and awards were given to those who had retrieved large items such as batteries and pool pumps, for the coolest piece of junk (an Arabic – I think – alphabet – I think!) and to the guy who found the GPS unit. He won a really cool vacuum cleaner from Electrolux – perhaps it’s a sign of increasing age and domesticity that I can get excited about a household appliance, but I want one of these. The oldest and youngest divers were rewarded, and there were even prizes for three divers who had to be chased back into the designated diving area by the metro dive boat. No one actually owned up to this, but we later found that Goot – one of our group – had been one of the rogue divers heading south instead of north!
Tony and I were given a prize for (excessive?) enthusiasm – but if the OMSAC committee thinks they’ll dissuade us from further events by embarrassing us, they’ve got another thing coming! It was a wonderful morning, well organised, with admirable safety provisions. We couldn’t believe how punctually things ran – co-ordinating such a large group of divers without incident is no mean feat.
Primary sponsorship was from Electrolux, as part of their Vac from the Sea program, and the Plastics Federation of SA. It was good to see heavy plastic users and manufacturers getting involved in efforts to reduce plastic pollution. Proceeds of the event were donated to the NSRI.
We completed the day doing two dives on the Underwater Explorers boat, both to the MV Aster. The second dive was a boat night dive, a new experience for me since all the other night dives I’ve participated in have been off the shore! More on that another time.