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Conservation

Dumpster Diving New Zealand Style

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By Rob Wilson

The date was February 23, 2014, and I was ready to launch my event, which I called “Fight for the Future.” This particular cleanup was totally inspired by the work of Cas Renooji and Pascal van Erp with their Ghost Fishing adventures in the North Sea. I had watched in absolute awe as these guys operated at 60 meters clearing enormous nets.  As a GUE diver with a “Fundies” (Fundamentals) Tech pass, I knew I wasn’t ready for that. However, my enthusiasm would not be curbed. I wanted to make a difference. It wasn’t my first cleanup, but it was the first that I had taken on the organizational lead.

Rob Wilson and Serena Cox give the shore briefing before the clean-up efforts begin. Photo Credit: Amanda White.

Call it New Zealand Dumpster Diving!

During our first event we hauled out everything from tires to hundreds of kilograms of bottles. All of the divers had a blast, and we were eager to clean up more dive sites. After the success and impressive haul of this first cleanup, we were hooked and consequently started to get more regular cleanups underway.

Our following also grew and we went from strength to strength. We soon affiliated our project with the international Ghost Fishing crew and began sharing information. Cas was coaching me behind the scenes in everything from team management to how to deal with the media.

Free divers, scuba divers, and the shore crew work together to remove rubbish. Photo Credit: Amanda White

Meanwhile, my Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) training also continued behind the scenes with Instructor Trainer Jamie Obern. I had undertaken various courses and expeditions with Jamie. Each course was like a piece of a puzzle from one grand image that I didn’t even know existed yet, until all of the pieces started to fit together. The skill set that the GUE training with Jamie gave me made operating in extremely low visibility environments a lot easier, so did having good buoyancy and trim. With that skill set, we were able to swim neutrally with multiple street cones and safely do ascents while carrying objects and managing loads of gear.

As Ghost Fishing New Zealand (GFNZ), we have learned a great deal of lessons and are constantly improving and streamlining our skills, including topside safety procedures. We also have an outreach program and go to local schools and businesses to talk about Ghost Fishing and what we do and how anyone can help. We regularly work with local groups and also the NZ Coast Guard to further improve the safety and awareness of our diver teams.

One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure

The things we have found beneath the surface have been amazing. We found a small section of a comet that fell in Russia in the 1920s, glass jars filled with coins, a Vietnamese whiskey bottle with a king cobra and scorpion in it, and four porcelain toilets—one is now a planter in my garden.

Photo Credit for gallery images: Rob Wilson, Ghost Fishing NZ.

Our team has come from all areas of diving and marine science. We have free divers and every level of diver from open water divers to trimix-certified CCR divers. And we’ve grown in both number and capability since our first cleanup. The feeling of bringing so many people together as a community, to fight for our shared future, is incredible.

We have also won some fantastic awards. We were lucky enough to win one of New Zealand’s most prestigious diving awards, the NZUA Leo Ducker award, for our work, along with multiple awards and recognition for the environment and heritage. For our team and volunteers to be recognized for the work we have done is incredibly humbling and a great honor. Our goal is to work toward making it more beautiful down under!

Interested in reading more aquatic conservation stories? Find more here.


Rob Wilson, one of the youngest scuba divers to certify in New Zealand at age 13, is a photographer by trade (specializing in astro and landscapes) and founder of Ghost Fishing NZ (GFNZ), a volunteer organization that removes more than a ton of rubbish from the capital’s waters every month. Rob got involved with cleanup dives in 2010 when the local dive shop needed volunteers. “That first time I got such a rush out of knowing the 25 plastic bottles I removed wouldn’t be able to harm sea life.” He has been participating in and managing cleanup dives ever since.

Conservation

DAN Europe’s Sustainable Tour

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Caring for the Ocean starts by taking the right steps on land

Why CO2 matters

The ocean has the capacity to absorb CO2 from the environment. When excess CO2 dissolves in seawater, it causes an acidity increase. This is known as Ocean Acidification. 

This phenomenon, coupled with other human factors, is destroying marine ecosystems and impacting many ocean species, especially organisms like oysters and corals. We must drastically reduce our CO2 emissions if we want to maintain a healthy ocean and a planet fit for our survival.

To raise awareness, DAN Europe Ambassadors are traveling across Europe and its surroundings in an electric vehicle (recharging it only with renewable energy), meeting with stakeholders and the entire diving community to—literally—drive the change we all need.

25,000 km of new opportunities

From 2021 onwards, DAN Europe has included helping the diving industry to take a more sustainable path, in its own sustainability plan

The Sustainable Tour was born as the result of paying attention to the major threats facing our playground as divers. It’s an environmental education project aimed at dive centres, which seeks to raise awareness about the close relationship between Climate Change and Ocean Acidification.

Last summer, the Sustainable Tour traveled 25,000 km carrying its message through 17 European countries.

These were the results:

  • 70+ meetings with sustainable change leaders
    30+ private companies
    30+ diving centres & clubs
    15+associations working for ocean conservation and sustainable mobility
  • 40+ press mentions In seven different languages
  • 33 blogs 
  • 15 Instagram (IG) Lives
  • 5 lectures: marine conservation
  • 5 Live interviews for the diving industry media
  • 1 Podcast: Hyundai “Are we there yet”

This is no time to stop—we must keep driving for Ocean Conservation!

In 2022, the Sustainable Tour returns, and this time it is the UK’s turn! DAN Europe Ambassadors will tour the entire territory, visiting some 50 dive centres in the area.

The programme will include:

  • Conference: “The link between Climate Change and Ocean Acidification”
  • Special activity with prizes: “DAN Europe by the sea contest”
  • Dedicated Events: Medical Research while Diving Against Debris

The role of DAN Europe in Ocean Protection

DAN Europe exists to assist and protect all divers through the most extensive and reliable network of diving physicians worldwide. We offer the community numerous pioneering services, including the first-ever insurance designed specifically for divers. 

Diving safety is our motto. 

Nowadays, knowing how critically threatened marine ecosystems are, we cannot talk about diving safety if we do not talk about ocean safety too.

If we do nothing, letting CO2 levels continue rising, by 2050 most coral systems in our oceans will be gone. Divers will no longer find any of the wonders shown by Cousteau, and if no one wants to dive any more, even our very existence as an organisation who cares for divers would be pointless.

We recognise the unique beauty and fragility of the Blue Planet and act as ambassadors for more sustainable practices within the diving community.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

—Native American proverb

We recently asked a group of children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Their answers astonished us. 

We remember that when we were little, whenever someone asked us this typical question, we would immediately go through the repertoire of known professions in the world and choose the one we thought was the most fun at the time, maybe a pediatrician or a teacher.

This does not seem to be the case with the children of this new generation. 

Most of the children immediately responded: “When I grow up, I want to save the planet and the ocean.”

Future generations deserve more from us. We need to act now!

Join us along the way as we meet stakeholders and the whole diving community to boost the change we all need: www.sustainabletour.eu / IG @daneurope / Twitter @DAN_Europe / FB DAN Europe (Divers Alert Network Europe) / LinkedIn @DAN Europe

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