Big Ocean Clean Up


Between the pillars of beautiful coral, we’d like to see a healthy ocean without plastic.

When we arrived in Curaçao, I wanted to find out what was being done on the island to help protect the ocean. I got a tip to contact Hans Pleij, the owner of CURious2DIVE. He has many ongoing projects with a healthier ocean in mind. These include helping injured turtles, establishment of a coral garden and organizing clean up dives.

The large pipe in front of the diving school, CURious2DIVE, shows directly how important it is for them to make people aware of the waste in the ocean. In this large pipe they collect the trash they found during their dives.

Hans explains: “It is important to make the people aware of their role in the prevention of waste. Especially young people that can still change their habits. We want young people to learn to collect their waste in the right way instead of throwing it into the environment.”

When the waste on the land is under control, the waste in the ocean will follow. Hans has also lectured to school children in the classroom about what they can do, and to seek volunteers for their yearly kick-off of the clean-up dives.

From the start of his dive school, Hans put a lot of effort into playing his part as a custodian of the ocean and on his own initiative he organized the clean up dives. Meanwhile, more diving schools in Curaçao have followed his good example. Through the organization “Project Aware”, many diving schools adopted their own dive site, where they organize a clean up dive every month.

CURious2Dive has adopted the dive site ‘Tugboat’. Every month, volunteers – locals and tourists – come together to collect ocean waste. The dive center takes it upon themselves to provide dive bottles for free. At the conclusion of the clean-up, information about the waste they found is forwarded to Project Aware, which collects data from diving schools all over the world. In this way they can research where the waste comes from and how to prevent it.

With the clean up dives they found a lot of fishing line

Thanks to information collected by diving schools such as CURious2Dive and other organizations we have come to a few shocking facts:

– Every year 100,000 sea mammals and 1 million seabirds are killed by waste at sea
– 80% of the waste in the sea is plastic
– Every year 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans
– We produce 300 million tons of plastic per year
– If we continue using plastic in the same way, by 2050 the weight of plastic in the sea will be higher than the weight of fish.

The photoshoot was made possible by the effort of some dedicated volunteers:

Model:Gwen Werner
UnderwaterPhotographerNoustha Koeckhoven
Safety diverHans Pleij
All aroud helpBryan Rolfe
Dive center

During a clean up dive the waste is normally removed from the ocean, but for this photoshoot, we had to do something a little contradictory, and temporarily hang it back in the ocean.

Bryan attach the trash together with fishing line  

In advance we tied up the waste with fishing line, to ensure that it would not float away in the water. The waste in the photo was all found on the Curaçao’s shores or collected during previous clean up dives. The collection includes plastic bags, disposable cutlery, plastic 6-pack rings, plastic bottles, pieces of rope, etc.

Through Leila, a resident of Curaçao, I was able to borrow a dress on which ink stains have been applied, which themselves’ symbolize the pollution of the sea.

Pre-dive briefing about the hand signals underwater

All hand signals for this photoshoot were discussed well in advance, because talking obviously isn’t an option once we were underwater.

Walking into the water is always a strange moment

For the location, we chose a pier next to the dive site the ‘Tugboat’. Beautiful coral grows on the pillars of these piers, and provided an appropriate contrast for the scene.

There was enough current under the pier that the plastic had to be firmly secured with fishing wire. For Gwen, the model, the current also made posing more difficult. She was also wearing a long dress with several layers of fabric, which became very heavy under water. The combination of the current and the heavy dress made it almost impossible for her to stay in the same place.

Between the pose the model could breath again trough the octopus from the safety diver.  

Gwen signaled when she needed air. Between poses, she could breath again trough the octopus of the safety diver.  When we needed to communicate, she put her mast back on. Through sign language, or by writing on the underwater slate, I could then give here instructions for what to do for the next shot.

After the photoshoot we needed to remove the trash from the ocean.

Of course we didn’t want to leave anything else than our bubbles in the ocean. So after the photoshoot, we took all the waste back out with us.

Though the team was free, the work for me was not yet finished. I took many images during the photoshoot, so I faced the daunting task of choosing just one out of all those shots. There are many things that you cannot control underwater. The dress floats in the wrong direction, hair hangs in front of the face or the plastic does not stay perfectly in place. The trick is to find an image in which all these elements come together nicely.

We can each help in our own way to reduce our impact. For example, by participating in a clean up dive, or better yet, by reducing our dependence on disposable plastics. Every bit helps!

Backstage video

Publication: Antiliaans Dagblad

Recommended article: The Succesfull Coral Garden

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