By Susan Dearing

Former Marine Carlos Cuellar taking names and passing out bags

Far left, Underworld Scuba general manager, Carlos Cuellar organizes scuba teams. Ruben Romo, Jr. (in black) conducts last minute business on his cell phone before he enters the water. The other divers pictured are from the Mexican Navy, CET del Mar (the school for marine sciences), and local volunteers.

Since 1998, divers and beach volunteers participate in The Ocean Conservancy's  International Cleanup Day. This year on Sept. 20, the clean-up will be held at La Boquita, at the northernmost point of Santiago Bay.

This event, sponsored by Underworld Scuba - Scuba Shack and PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), Project A.W.A.R.E. (Aquatic World Awareness, Responsibility and Education), will be the largest cleanup ever held in the history of Manzanillo.

The area will be divided into 4 sections: Beach, ocean, lagoon, and roads in and out. Underworld Scuba - Scuba Shack is looking for volunteers to head up each section.

In the past, the youngest beach participant was 15 months; the oldest, Nigel Rumford, age 68.

 The youngest diver, Jack Whyte, was 10 years of age. He was supervised by PADI Instructor. Jack's mother, Rhonda, and brother and sister, Luke and Whitney, also participated. All are residents of Manzanillo.

Jack, Whitney & Luke prepare to exit

Jack, Whitney and Luke Whyte "trashing out."

Sorting trash is no small job

As the scuba divers return with their trash, including smelly dead fish, plastic bottles, fishing nets, plastic oil containers, liquor bottles and other slimy stuff, Freda Rumford diligently separates the different types of garbage. Once the trash is counted and categorized, it is replaced into a plastic bag to be taken away.

Any trash removed from the ocean that might have an animal hiding in it was placed in a large tub of fresh sea water. This method works exceptionally well with debris that has been in the ocean a long time. The offspring of many creatures, such as octopus, lobsters, sea stars, shrimp, and crab, seek refuge in any container that has an opening. When a receptacle was removed from the sea, it was placed in the tub and the small creature was given time to exit. Dozens of tiny animals were released back into the sea, but first, they served to delight the children gathered around the tub.

In past years, beachgoers, scuba divers and water lovers in Manzanillo, and in more than 90 countries around the world helped to combat one of the aquatic environment's most pervasive problems: debris. 

In one area of Manzanillo alone, more than 550 lbs. of garbage was removed from the ocean, then separated, counted and catalogued.

From Playa San Pedrito, one of the smallest and oldest beaches in Manzanillo, almost 700 lbs. of trash was analyzed, making the grand total of debris more than 1,250 lbs.

Plastic bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, and dead fish made up much of the floating debris. Other debris, such a fiberglass boat fragments, metal, wood, fishing nets, old anchors, tires, rubber hose, metal and plastic pipes, rope, old fishing line, anchors, lead sinkers, fish hooks, cigarette butts, medical supplies, glass bottles, cloth, and many other types of garbage were found on the ocean floor and on the beach. Most of the trash removed was very light in weight, so the poundage wasn't really the issue.

The statistics have been analyzed locally by Dr. Lidia Silva I˝iguez of the University of Colima Marine Sciences School, and The Ocean Conservancy. The purpose of the analysis is to determine who the major polluters are in the entire world. For example, a potato chip bag may indicate picnickers, while a one-quart oil bottle probably came from a boat, and a strapping band likely from a cargo ship.

The information on the data charts will be used to help citizens, community groups, schools, municipalities, business and industry, and government agencies develop solutions for pollution problems associated with coastal and water-borne debris. 

Dr. Lidia surrounded by her Thesis: Trash

"Fun" for Dr. Lidia Silva (center) of the University of Colima is counting and cataloging trash. Her thesis was on trash analysis. She has her PHD in oceanography.

Measuring determining exactly what section of the beach is most polluted

San Pedrito is a very small beach by comparison to other beaches in Manzanillo, but yet the volunteers found 1,250 lbs. of garbage. Above, students and volunteers working under Dr. Lidia Silva, measure off sections of beach, getting ready to catalog what type of garbage is found in specific areas. 

The ocean cleanup at San Pedrito is not the end of the program here in Manzanillo. There will be three more cleanup days at San Pedrito--in winter, spring and summer--then the results of all 4 cleanups will be tabulated. 

From this report it will be determined whether the area is getting cleaner, there is no improvement, or the pollution is getting worse.

Other beach/ocean cleanups are planned this year for Playa Escondida in La Punta, La Boquita in Santiago Bay, and Playa La Audiencia. Once again, trash will be separated and catalogued, studies will be done, and the type of trash collected from these areas will be compared with the studies done at San Pedrito.

Each year countless amounts of trash makes its way into aquatic areas from either land- or ocean-based sources. The Project A.W.A.R.E. Foundation and The Ocean Conservancy help collect data worldwide. The individual reports, such as the one done in Manzanillo, are then analyzed for type, amount and potential source of debris. 

The 12 debris items found most often make up the infamous "dirty dozen" - a list of aquatic debris' worst offenders. These items include cigarette butts, beverage containers and glass pieces. San Pedrito and La Perlita had no shortage of tossed-away plastic. More than 5,100 items were collected, including bottles once containing soft drinks, bleach, and oil, along with plastic bags and plastic wrappers.

To get this T-shirt free you really have to work

The dive team of Steve Stanton and Susan Dearing proudly wear and display 3 of the 150 T-shirts donated by Coca Cola. The sign for Project A.W.A.R.E. was donated by the Kipper Lopez family, owners of Materiales Monterrey.

Ready to dive!

One would think that the breakdown of natural organic matter, such as dead fish, would be beneficial to the marine environment. Normally, it is. Bacteria from decomposition breaks down organic waste into inorganic products that enrich the marine ecosystem. But, if organic input exceeds its breakdown, it causes immense bacterial activity that depletes the oxygen in the water. Poorly oxygenated water  can cause seafood contamination, and eating shellfish or fish with high amounts of accumulated human pathogens can result in typhoid, salmonella poisoning, viral hepatitis and botulism. Manzanillo doesn't have this problem...yet. This is why everyone--divers and snorkelers and beachgoers alike--must help to keep the beaches as clean as possible.

Along with the boats that carried 16 divers, several other boat captains assisted by transporting garbage back to the beach, and picking up divers who were returning to the boat with garbage. 

Other boats (such as the pilot boat in the background) were on hand to warn boaters and fishermen that there were many divers in the water. 

Sam Short, having the largest boat (a deep sea fishing charter boat) in the area, was asked to follow the divers and act as a "spotter" when they surfaced with trash. 

Waterlogged  or metal debris can weigh hundreds of pounds, and a diver bringing up heavy trash requires immediate assistance.

The mood was light, as 16 divers loaded into the boats, eager to begin hauling out trash. Little did they know what they were getting into. When the divers' boats got over to the La Perlita area, it was clear that they wouldn't need their dive gear right away.

There was so much trash floating on the surface, including bags, bottles, and dead fish, that it took 16 divers over an hour to clean it up. That meant about 10 bags of trash were filled before they even went diving! Fortunately, there were more bags on the boat, and divers with plenty of energy.

The boat divers had the unpleasant task of collecting 144 organic objects, including dead fish.

Why is no one smiling but Susan?

Not everyone thinks its funny to smell dead fish.

When the boat returned to the beach, the people who had the unfortunate task of sorting out the trash, asked, "Why so many dead fish?"

There are two main reasons. Fortunately, the fish weren't dying from pollution. However, many fish floating on the surface were puffers who found themselves trapped in nets. A puffer fish defends itself against predators by swallowing water and puffing up. If one has the misfortune to get caught in a gill net, it is brought to the surface and swallows air instead. Because the puffer can't release air like he can water, he ends up drowning. The amount of dead puffers indicate a lot of illegal gill netting taking place off the beaches.

The other reason for so many decomposing dead animals (including a turtle), is that the fishermen filet their catch right in the enclosed harbor. So many fish are caught and later cleaned in the harbor, that the bottom is littered with putrefied remains. Not a nice thought.

When one dive team (Susan Dearing and Steve Stanton) surfaced with their bag of trash, they were surprised to find the other divers on the boat. All were turning an odd shade of green, and one diver was up-chucking his breakfast (appropriate, because he owns a restaurant). Another diver on the boat called to Susan and Steve to hurry and get in the boat.

Perplexed, and not knowing what the problem was, Susan, being the oldest and only female diver in the group, jokingly asked if the guys were "a bunch of wimps, or what?"

What she didn't know, or couldn't smell (since Steve and she still had her mask on) was the terrible odor emanating from all the rotting dead fish aboard the boat.

Once she got a whiff of the smell that was making grown men green, she quickly put her mask back on and advised everyone else to do the same.

Not everyone wants to be a breath hold diver. And the term, "feeding the fish" took on a new meaning when the hapless restaurateur (who shall remain nameless) started tossing his cookies.

Super Scuba Mom!

Scuba Mom Rhonda Whyte dove with her children Jack, Luke and Whitney, making hers the largest family to participate in the cleanup. They spent much of their time underwater digging plastic bags out of the sand.

The beach dive teams, lead by PADI Divemaster Carlos Cuellar and PADI Instructor Fernando Hernandez, were not to be outdone by the boat divers. As Carlos aptly stated, "There's plenty of trash for everyone!"

Getting ready to go down under

Carlos Cuellar of Underworld Scuba- Scuba Shack seems to be left holding the bag. The dive shop's scuba boat, "Nancy," waits in the background, ready to assist the divers when they come to the surface with their bags of trash. The boat captain's other responsibility was to keep other boats out of the area for the safety of divers underwater.

Want to see what the divers saw on the bottom? Click here.

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