Celebrated every year in September, volunteer organizations and individuals from around the world, participate in the biggest ocean cleanup to remove trash from beaches and waterways, known as The International Coastal Cleanup.
The initiative to collect and document the trash littering our coastlines was started by Linda Maraniss and Kathy O’Hara. While working for Ocean Conservancy in 1986, they started a movement that would create ripples of change to help save our oceans.
While participants are asked to pick up trash, the event goes beyond this. The International Coastal Cleanup™(ICC) event grows year after year because it creates awareness and inspires actions among those who participate.
According to Ocean Conservancy, since its beginning, the International Coastal Cleanup has gathered over 16 million volunteers and has collected more than 340 million pounds of trash in more than 100 countries.
As someone who is deeply passionate about our oceans, I have always wanted to participate in one of these events. So when my dive buddy, Maire, and I found out there was one happening in Anilao, Batangas, we didn’t hesitate to sign up.
Though the International Coastal Cleanup was scheduled for September 18 this year, we decided to go a day early to do some fun dives prior to the event.
What happened during the International Coastal Cleanup Day?
Because this was an event organized by divers for divers, our coastal cleanup day involved going on an actual dive and taking out debris that was polluting our coral reefs in the area. Our day began with a hefty Filipino breakfast courtesy of Layag Resort where the event was taking place.
As we had already check-in the day to do some scuba diving in Anilao, it was a pretty chill morning. We set up our dive gear then waited for all the other participants to arrive from Manila.
We hung out at the dining area and enjoyed some treats from the sponsors and received an ICC shirt for the event.
The event finally started past 9 am with Ross welcoming the participants.
As it turns out this was Ross’ 3rd cleanup event in the past year. This International Coastal Cleanup Day was inspired by her “Un-mask the Ocean” events which raised awareness about the medical masks that have been polluting the ocean since the pandemic started.
Torben from Pacifica Dive Shop one of the few dive supply shops in the Philippines and official distributor of Scuba Pro in the Philippines was also given a chance to talk. As they were sponsoring the event, he announced that he would be giving special prizes to the dive boat with the most trash hauled out from the ocean and for anyone who would find the weirdest item from the ocean.
Naturally, this got everyone excited and including me and Maire who are very competitive. We always end up getting 2nd place during previous PADI Women Dive Day cleanup events so we wanted to place first this time around.
I liked that during the briefing we were reminded that not all trash we see in the ocean should be removed. Sometimes bottles and containers protect tiny sea creatures and by taking them out, you could be evicting them from their home. Some trash has become part of the reef and removing them can mean destroying the corals that could have grown on them.
If you plan to join in a cleanup dive, make sure to read my post on 15 Underwater Cleanup Tips for Scuba Divers Who Want To Help Clean Our Oceans
After the announcements, we headed to the dive shop to gather our things and go to our assigned boats. There was a total of 7 boats with at least 4 divers each that headed out to dive sites in Anilao. Our dive group which included me, Maire, Raffy, Mariz, Thad and our DM Jimmy, was assigned to boat Salam.
For our first dive site, we headed to Minilog a dive site that I have never visited before. It was about a 10-minute boat ride from Layag so we arrived in no time.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with blue turquoise waters and it looked pristine. I was a bit dubious and was worried that this was not a good dive site to pick up trash. But Jimmy assured us that it was.
We geared up and slowly descended and started to pick up random plastics here and there. To be honest, at the start of the dive I was disappointed that my trash bag wasn’t getting filled up.
I could not understand why Jimmy brought us here for the cleanup dive. Until of course, I reached the area where it looked like dump trucks had offloaded their trash into this site.
Piles and piles of debris covered the reef and convinced me that it was one of the worst dive sites I’ve visited in Anilao. I have never seen anything like it in any of my dives in the Philippines.
Now I get why Jimmy brought us here.
Soon enough, we filled our bags with clothing, shoes, flip-flops, bags, sacks, tarpaulins, and more. Our bags became so heavy to carry that at one point we left our trash bags first on the reef as we gathered more trash.
When we finally ran low on air, we did our 3-minute safety stop and surfaced. It was one of the most challenging ascends I’ve made. The weight of the trash was pulling me down and I had my hands full of trash.
We did our surface interval and made our way to Caban Cove for our second cleanup dive. A site I’m very familiar with from previous cleanup dives in Anilao.
Around 4 other dive boats had visited Caban for their first dive, and you would think the site would have less trash at this point. But we still managed to pick up a significant amount of trash from this site. The currents kept bringing the trash into the cove and we were literally diving in plastic.
It was very disheartening to see and experience.
We went back to Layag Resort with our boat filled with as much trash as we could. Based on my previous experience doing cleanup dives, I was convinced we had won the competition.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing.
Much to my disappointment, we didn’t do a trash audit or record what we actually pulled out from the ocean. I think this would have been a more impactful event had we actually processed what we gathered for the International Coastal Cleanup. All I know is that each boat managed to bring back at least 3 sacks each and that was it.
In the evening they announced who won the contest for most trash taken from the ocean, much to my surprise, we did not win nor did we place. That’s how much trash there was in the ocean that other dive groups took back more than we did!
Why I continue to do cleanup dives
While I was happy to have taken out some of the trash in the ocean, I was also sad.
Sad that we had to even take out the trash from the ocean, sad that we continue to do so dive after dive, and sad that such attempts seem futile.
But I do it anyway and will continue to do it in every dive.
Because I think it still makes a difference.
For every plastic I take, I think about the sea turtle that could have mistaken it for its food.
For every fishing wire or net I remove, I think about all the fish that could have strangled and died beneath it.
For every clothing or sack I remove, I think about the corals that could have been trapped underneath it.
Even beyond the dive, I am reminded more and more why I need to make changes in my life. I don’t want to keep living a life where the plastic I used today ends up being the plastic I end up removing from the ocean tomorrow.
I also hope that somehow through my stories, videos, or posts, I can get one more person to say no to plastic everyday. I think that would make all the difference.
Want to do your part for the ocean, check out these guides on how you can say no to plastic!
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Have you participated in an International Coastal Cleanup Day? What was the weirdest thing you’ve picked up while diving in the ocean or while cleaning beaches? Leave a comment below!