Dive Against Debris

Yesterday was a very important day. As part of ProjectAWARE’s Aware week, the Utila Dive Center, along with 9 other dive centers in the Utila dive community, did a massive Dive Against Debris

ProjectAware is a partner project to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), whose intention is to address to protect the ocean and marine species through public education, training, data collection, and direct action. They are primarily focused on marine protection and decreasing pollution. Through their Dive Against Debris project, they call divers to collect trash with every dive - reducing pollution directly and compiling important data on the specifics of this pollution. 

I am not  one week into my GoECO specialty program, and have been learning from marine biologist, Susanna Phipps, about the human impacts on our local ecosystem here on Utila (overfishing, pollution practices and impacts, sewage systems and their impacts on populations and coral). It has been eye opening, daunting and inspiring all at the same time. Suzy lead our dive shop in this debris collection. 

Still with ear infection, I was unable to dive, but I manned the boat, collected mesh bags of trash and weighed them as our divers collected. After about 45 minutes of diving, out team had to stop as our boat was completely full. Our boat alone collected 1015 lbs. of trash (cans, plastic, construction materials, clothes, a whole blender), and we barely made a dent in what still remains. We estimated that 3750 lbs of trash was collected between all the shops. 

The trash is obviously an immediate problem, but underlying it, is the real problem — how did it get there in the first place. 70% of the trash in our oceans comes from land. In the Cays, which is where we did our collections, locals will throw their trash out of windows and into the bay, they use the oceans as a landfill, so it is clear to see how trash makes it to sea there, but even in the States, where trash is not disposed of in this way, we still have a big problem. If trash is thrown away properly, there is still runoff into the oceans from trash cans, sewers, or landfill into rivers, streams, or right into the sea. Even if you recycle, the same is true. Not everyone knows this, and I certainly didn’t until it stopped, but for decades, the U.S. would send the majority of our recycling materials (unsorted) to China, but in 2018, China attempting to shift it’s impact on global pollution, stopped accepting recycling from the States. Without an infrastructure to support the mass of recycling piling up, most recycled materials are burned or put into landfills like any other piece of trash- leaving more a risk of oceans getting trash, and micro plastics (tiny bits of plastics created for plastic making, or produced as plastic begins to breakdown). We have to start doing something. Not just individuals but bigger corporations as well. Where does your trash go after you throw something away? Each plastic item can take anywhere from 450 - 1000 years to break down (and even still remains as micro plastics that still pose risk to sea life). Start to think about how much trash you produce in a lifetime. Is there a way you can reduce your impact? How can we work toward a zero waste life? Refuse to make trash. Refuse to purchase or use plastic products - stop the demand to produce plastic in the first place. It won’t take a few people doing this perfectly, the problem demands that everyone do this imperfectly to try and stop the pressure we our putting on this world. 

There are so many resources out there if you want to do more and learn more. #zerowaste #plasticfree Going Zero Waste is one I have been using for tips, resources, support, etc. It is a good place to start learning about what you can do differently.

Jasper's Utila Animal Shelter

While land-locked, I started to walk dogs at Jasper's Utila Animal Shelter. Just wanted to give this place a big shout out. They are relatively young, but are working really hard to help the dogs and cats on this island. Walking around, you will probably see about a dozen strays in a day. Even when owned by a family on Utila, dogs don’t tend to be treated the way you think of as a pet; they definitely are not treated like a member of the family, and a lot of the dogs are either mistreated or malnourished. Japer’s Shelter and their team offer free spading, free medicine, fostering, and still have a hard time getting the dogs on the island care. Disease is pretty common with the dogs on the island, so they take them in and give them medicine / get them any care they need. Sometimes, they will house dogs for a family while the dogs are sick and return them to the families when better.  It seems like the majority of the animals that are here are adults, so they don’t tend to get adopted easily, which is a shame, because they are really sweet pups. 

Take Abby, for example. I will try to remain partial but she is my absolute favorite walking buddy. She is so sweet and loves affection. She loves to dance, but is a bit shy around other dogs. (I absolutely love her but live with 4 pups who may not be the best fit for her). If you are interested, please contact info@jaspersutilaanimalshelter.org. I’d be happy to fly her back with me or help arrange transport.

Jasper’s Shelter really cares about these animals and wants to make sure they end up in permanent homes that will care for these creatures, but there aren’t enough people adopting and giving proper homes to these dogs on the island. I want to see if there is any way I can help them get connected with homes, families, and other foster programs in the U.S. If anyone has any suggestions, send my way. I would also love to get some donated biodegradable doggie bags to them. If you want to send them some, please talk to me or Jasper’s, and if you are interested in sending a more general donation, I know they could use all the help she can get. They just built out the surgery room in the shelter, but is a bit away from their goals for an X-ray machine. It is a very small team here; volunteers and donations are really important to them so any little bit would go a long way 

More cute pups (I will add to this as I continue to walk new friends):

Right (Cookie Dough) and Left (Sudoku / Sabaro is what I am calling her but neither are her actual name - She hasn’t seemed to mind)

Jasper's Utila Animal Shelter

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Night Night

Unfortunately, I have been out of the water for the past four days with an ear infection. Waiting for it to heal, I have been thinking about my last dive every day, anxiously anticipating the next time I get to enter the water. after completing the Open Water course, I went straight into the Advance Open Water course (extra training that will allow me to dive up to 100 ft). Through this course we focused on 5 specialties: Perfecting Buoyancy, Underwater Navigation, Night Diving, Deep Water Diving, and Underwater Naturalist. While I did have my fun in each one, it is in the night dive that was my last and most impactful.

Just as the sun dipped under the horizon, we hopped on the boat and headed out. Flashlights in hand, we each jumped into the water and let the small beams guide us as we explored— first a coral wall, then a wrecked boat and all the beautiful life growing upon it. We saw a whole different array of creatures— crabs and sleeping parrotfish. We made our way to a small patch of sand where we all knelt down in a huddle. Holding each other’s arms, we buried our flashlights into the sand and let the darkness fully surround us. As we sat there, letting our eyes adjust, small flashes of blue light started to swarm. Waving her hands, Red, one of our instructors, activated the bioluminescent dinoflagellates in the water arounds us. It was then that I started to look around at the city coming to life around us. Just above the coral, like icicle Christmas lights, strings of pearls were lighting up. It is hard to even describe the experience. The only word I can think of that comes close is, simply, breathtaking.

We lifted our flashlights, just in time to see a tiny 2 inch flounder swim away, and slowly made our way to the surface and onto the boat. By now, the light was completely gone and all the stars were out. With such a clear sky, you could even see the clouds of the milky way. As the boat drive forward, it kicked up water and the bioluminescent life with in like a streak of little shooting stars, perfectly mirroring the dancing lights above. Breathtaking.

I know I have to wait to dive again. I know the next time I enter this world will feel like the first gasp of air after holding your breath. I miss the water. I miss exploring. Wish my ear all of the healing.

Week 1, Captain's Log: Hello, Heaven, It's Me, Margaret

It is hard to believe that it has only been a little over a week. Courses have begun and have been completed. People have come and gone. I have moved in and out of the dorms, and I shall try my best to recount the week in full, but in the likelihood I do forget something, I do know this: it has been wonderful.

This is Utila Dive Center (the classroom during my time here)

As part of the Open Water class through Utila Dive Center, I was staying at a dorm at the Mango Inn. While most of the power on the island runs on diesel, I did discover that the Mango Inn runs on solar. (Bonus!) Here is a little peak at that place Note: there will be many photos of animals throughout this. There are a lot of dogs and cats running through the streets, but there are also so many crabs that come out at night.

It was here that I met my roommates, Kip and Debbie, two Denver nurses, with whom I was very lucky to live and dive with for the week. Almost immediately after meeting, we started our Open Water course together. This class is the thorough basics of diving— what gear is required and how to check it, how pressure affects the body and how to prevent squeeze (issues with releasing pressure in the body), how to descent and ascent responsibly, and how to dive responsibly (for yourself and with creatures).

In this course, we dove about 5 times, the best of which was our last dive, around a coral wall and small boat wreck. During this dive, I started to feel a bit more comfortable and stopped thinking about the fact that I was 18 meters underwater breathing from a canister. I started to feel the sense of flying and started to notice more and more creatures— flounders, sergeant majors, rainbow parrot fish, a sunfish, trumpet fish, scorpion fish, blue tangs, angelfish etc. Toward the end of our dive, our instructors and assistants (Logan and Red, Chris and Kat) gathered us in a circle, toward a patch of sand, where we all kissed the sand with our regulators as our final grad ceremony.

Congrats UDC Open Water Divers! (Kip and Debbie on the right of me)

Here are a few photos from my wanderings around the island.

I have to stop and talk about Rethink cafe, a vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free friendly little haven. This shop is owned by two of the GoECO instructors (Suzie and Dani). I stopped in and found so many plastic-free supplies and education encouragements. On that note, I want to say that I am wildly impressed with Utila, in that I have yet to see a plastic straw; the default here is a glass and a metal straw. Amazing! (And more rants about plastic to come. I promise.) It was at Rethink that I began to spend my mornings. How could I not, with a view like this?

I am, of course, not the only one with this idea and soon met David and his companion, Luna, two wonderful new friends and breakfast buddies.

I can’t count the number of people I have met who came for vacation and never left- seems to be a trend. Here’s hoping that return flight sticks.