Treasure to trash: Capetonians dive in to clean up litter
What started as a seabed treasure hunt for social freedivers has turned into a huge coastal clean-up
A freediver’s plan to stage an underwater treasure hunt turned into a unique shallow-water trash hunt after divers realised just how much debris is littering the seabed.
Now divers are snooping under harbour jetties in Cape Town to clean up all manner of debris as part of a massive coastal clean-up.
“We initially wanted to do an underwater treasure hunt where divers go and retrieve objects, but then I thought about it and realised that we probably shouldn’t be putting more stuff in there,” said Sharon Martin, who founded a social diving group called Trail Freedivers. “And so our first clean-up became a trash hunt."
This first event, at Jubilee Jetty in Simon’s Town, was planned as a social freedivers’ get-together but has quickly grown into a regular fixture, with five underwater clean-ups completed in the past year. Divers have netted trash in Simon’s Town harbour, Kalk Bay harbour and Miller’s Point.
Their next outing is at Hout Bay harbour on September 15, where they are involved with various groups and organisations for the International Coastal Cleanup day, which coincides with World Cleanup Day.
Martin said divers were concerned about the increase in plastic on the seabed, in addition to the huge plastic pollution seen on beaches and drifting on the surface.
“We’re finding a lot more plastic in areas where we normally don’t see it,” she said. “People don’t seem to be aware of how much plastic, left on land, ends up in the water.”
She said the group had been pleasantly surprised by the relatively clean Simon’s Town waterfront area, but disappointed by the mess in Kalk Bay.
In future the trash collected will be catalogued to assist with plastic litter research conducted by the University of Cape Town which tracks the volume of waste by monitoring specific plastic items – the so-called Dirty Dozen (including carrier bags, chip packets, straws and bottles). The Dirty Dozen method has already been used by various groups doing beach clean-ups, with growing support.
Martin said her group’s underwater findings were not all depressing, however, thanks to some unexpected debris “colonisation” by sea creatures.
“There are times when I leave an item because there is a lot of life on it. I found a bottle covered in strawberry anemones and it was just so beautiful. It sounds a bit strange but I always tell people to check all the glass items they find, and leave them if they had become a home to marine life – unless it is broken and near the shore, and poses a danger to beachgoers.”
The underwater clean-up initiative is just one of several ongoing efforts to combat plastic pollution, which also includes a moratorium on the use of disposable plastic at False Bay Yacht Club and marina.
The club confirmed on Wednesday it was seeking biodegradable alternatives to replace single-use plastic items, and had subscribed to a global Clean Regattas initiative which will see only reusable water bottles handed out at their upcoming Spring Regatta.
Club manager Natasha Fish said she hoped other yacht clubs and marinas would follow suit.