Innocent Bystanders

By Bill Gleason

Each year, thousands of tons of garbage get dumped in the sea and local waters. Once it sinks beneath the surface, it’s usually forgotten. Sure, headlines on mercury levels and toxic waste greet us occasionally in the morning paper and on the evening news. These remind us of the lingering effects of ocean dumping but it’s one of those big problems that someone else is left to solve. Seldom do we hear from the innocent bystanders.

The graphic photograph on this page, depicting the death of a Spotted Moray Eel owing to entanglement in fishing line, is the voice of the innocent bystander.

I took this photo off a Caribbean island, just after a group of divers had returned to my boat. They were all talking about ‘that dead eel down there’ and the comments were pretty much standard. The squeamish said ‘gross’; the animal lovers showed empathy and compassion; the environmentally minded screamed ‘foul.’ Interesting enough, for all the comments, both the eel and the monofilament remained below and neither divemaster nor guest indicated they wished to take any action. I borrowed a knife, grabbed a tank, took the pictures, removed both the eel and the monofilament and returned the eel to its watery grave.

There are lessons aplenty here for us all. Let’s start with me. Kudos for being the undertaker and getting rid of the monofilament but why did I have to borrow a knife? As a public proponent and outspoken advocate of picking up trash whenever it is encountered on a dive, that I was knifeless would indicate I was unprepared for this type of situation. I plead absolutely guilty. However, with the addition of a combo knife/tool to my BC pocket, I’m knifeless no longer. In the future, bring on the monofilament!

As to the divers and divemasters, I posed a polite question, asked after the fact. If everyone saw the entangled eel, even pointed it out to their buddies, and the scene sparked so many comments, why didn’t anyone do something about it?

In a perfect world, I would never have been able to take the picture, since the first diver on the scene would have removed the eel and fishing line! Granted, that’s not the dream job anyone would necessarily apply for but neither is changing diapers. But both have to get done!

For all of us, September 20 is the time to change our ways, get together with our diving buddies and do some good for the innocent bystanders. The International Underwater Cleanup is the world’s largest diving event, taking place in all 50 states and more than 80 countries around the world! It ranges from just a couple of divers cleaning up a spot to hundreds of divers converging on beaches and harbors to remove trash, monofilament and other debris. Dive stores, instructors, divers and state coordinators all pitch in together to clean up the underwater world. You can join them. This issue of SKIN DIVER includes extensive coverage of local action. Your invitation to participate is just a phone call away! If for some reason you don’t live close to a cleanup site, start your own. All you need is a buddy or two, a couple of tanks of air, a pair of gloves and a collection bag. (I also recommend a knife!) Just select a wreck, beach, harbor or lake and get going. There’s usually no shortage of trash except in those areas frequently dived, since divers do usually clean up those sites.

The International Underwater Cleanup is sponsored by the Center for Marine Conservation, PADI, DEMA/Ocean Futures and Skin Diver. We are ably joined in this task by literally thousands of volunteers and businesses that coordinate and participate in the events. This year Skin Diver will be picking up trash in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, the site of Ocean Fest, a three day dive event (an article on this event can be found on page 18). Come on by and go for a dive with us; I’ll even let you borrow my knife!

Should you participate in this year’s Underwater Cleanup? Take a good hard look at that moray, then join us in making our underwater world a cleaner and safer place!