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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#376: 29th Avalon Harbor Cleanup

Before writing this week's column, I went to the archive of my previous 375 "Dive Dry ..." masterpieces to see what I have written in the past about the annual Avalon Harbor Cleanup. I was shocked to find that I had done only one column on this event in the nine years I've written for this paper. However, even my feeble memory can conjure up words I've crafted about it as an occasional "underwater reporter" rather than a columnist. This week I'll double my output on this beneficial event!

On Saturday, February 20th, hundreds of divers from all over California and even a few of those states to the east of us gathered on the beaches of Avalon to participate in this event, the 29th time it has been held. The numbers were significantly lower than in prior years, most likely a result of the economy (or lack thereof) and faulty forecasting on the part of the weather "people." Initial reports suggested rain all day, but instead we had sun and mostly blue skies much of the time. I can't really refer to weather "men" these days since many of those guessing at what will befall us are buxom ladies, most likely hired to distract the males in the audience from the errors in their guess work. I only wish I could get a job where I could be wrong most of the time and still get paid. Actually, I'd be happy to just have a job... or, more accurately, a paycheck!

The size of the crowd was more than compensated for by their enthusiasm. The energy level was high and everyone was eager to submerge in the waters of the harbor to remove trash that has accumulated there or been exposed by water motion over the past year. The event is put together by many volunteers, assisted by a number of local businesses from our dive shops to the baggage service to Seagull Sanitation. These people and establishments all work together to benefit not only our local community by cleaning up the harbor of debris, but the funds raised are donated to the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber at USC and the Catalina Conservancy Divers' Robert Given Fund for Ocean Conservation. The divers come not to take anything from the island (except the trash!), but to give back to it.

Eager wet- and dry-suit clad participants gathered on the beach at 9:00 AM for the mandatory safety briefing by our own Ron Moore. As the 9:30 start time approached, I went out to one of the floats on the Pleasure Pier so I could giant stride into the water with my video camera and face the divers heading out to deeper water. When I entered, I was pleased to see about 30 foot visibility. The past two years were awful with some participants last year saying they could barely read their gauges due to poor conditions caused by runoff from rains. I haven't covered the event below the surface the last two years due to bad colds, but was pleased to be healthy (although not wealthy) this year.

As a scientist, while filming the divers, I try to conduct a non-rigorous survey of the amount of trash I encounter in the bay. Without running a statistical analysis on my anecdotal observations, I feel the harbor has been getting cleaner each year. Mayor Bob Kennedy confirmed that following the dive by indicating the tonnage of trash has declined over the years. I jokingly stated that it must be the economy... the boat owners can't afford enough booze to get sloppy and let things slip overboard unintentionally. Just teasing of course. I doubt anyone would throw their Blackberry or other items over the transom on purpose.

Since I carry a camera rather than a trash bag during this event, I could not resist filming a few of the critters I encountered on this dive. At 51 feet I ran into a torpedo ("electric") ray resting on the bottom. We have had a number of sightings of these interesting critters in the dive park the past few months, and one diver reported seeing three of them in the harbor during this event. Fortunately no one had a shocking encounter with one this day. As I neared the end of my 65 minute dive, I encountered a sand star exposed on top of the sand. I rarely see them in the areas I dive off our island, and enjoyed the opportunity to video this one as it reburied itself in the soft substrate of the harbor. Last year, the most exciting thing I filmed was an octopus crawling out of a bottle after it was brought topside where I was marooned due to my congested lungs.

With the dive completed, I took the Dr. Bill Mobile (my golf cart) up to the house to shower, and returned for the follow up events in Wrigley Plaza. Mayor Bob welcomed the divers to the island and thanked them for the contribution they make during this event. Jill Boivin, chief organizer of the event for many years, spoke of the many great volunteers who help put this together. Danny Piper, president of the Conservancy divers, and Karl Huggins, program manager at the hyperbaric chamber, were both introduced and said a few words. California Diving News publishers and SCUBA Show organizers Dale and Kim Scheckler were there. Emcee "T.J." Jones kept the raffle drawing going at an impressive clip, interspersed with his usual (or is it unusual?) sense of humor. A few unfortunate participants won the educational DVDs I donated for the raffle... at least they now have a sure cure for insomnia!

Ken Kurtis of Reefseekers combined both his SCUBA and voice over/TV show host skills to introduce the competitors for the Silver Tongued Devil award. Many of you know about "fish stories." This award is for the equivalent in the SCUBA world... the most creative and humorous tale woven around pieces of trash retrieved by the divers during the event. The winning story tellers used their props to tell of a semi-disastrous cruise, but my favorite story was that of the "Olympic competitor" who won a medal in the beer bong competition.

Our own Lorraine Sadler helped give out the awards for the different categories of trash... oldest, smallest, electrical, most valuable, etc. As always, there were some interesting items pulled off the bottom this year. However, to the best of my knowledge, the diamond ring Lisa Marie Presley threw off Nicolas Cage's boat remains there for some lucky diver to find. I could finance a LOT of international dive trips if I were fortunate enough to recover it. Knowing my luck, I'd only find a plastic ring from a Cracker Jack box. That wouldn't even get me to Long Beach!

This event is one of the highlights of the year for me. Other than donating a few of my DVDs as a minor sponsor, and filming the event for the paper, I shamefully do nothing to help. All the credit goes to the many others mentioned (and unmentioned) here. However, I love the opportunity to see so many of my friends in the dive community and socialize with them. I had invitations to dinner both nights that were greatly appreciated (since only frozen burritos graced my freezer shelf). I was able to chat with so many people I've met over my years of diving. Of course some day I hope to finally encounter my mermaid at an event like this... or on my international dive trips when I find that diamond!

Some in our community view divers as "cheap." That is certainly true of dive bums like myself, but the rest of the dive community gives back to us in ways we often don't recognize. Many are repeat visitors to the island, returning time and again to dive our fantastic dive park at Casino Point. Hundreds of them join in this event to help keep our harbor free from junk. The efforts by many local divers and Kurt Lieber's Ocean Defenders Alliance to retrieve trash such as the batteries from a recently sunken vessel or the fishing nets from the wreck of the squid boat Infidel are two examples that have received media attention. There are other, often less publicized things that the dive community does for our island community and the waters off our shores. Many divers in our waters (including the dive park) frequently remove debris including the numerous beer cans that anglers fishing off the Casino groyne (breakwater) throw into the park. Divers like these deserve our thanks... and the thanks of the critters who live "down under" for improving their neighborhood.

© 2010 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Divers underwater with folding beach chair and barbecue grill; the sand star and torpedo ray,
among the critters that benefit from the cleanup..

Additional images from the 29th Annual Avalon Harbor Cleanup:

Part of the crowd of divers at the post-dive event

Mayor and co-owner of SCUBA Luv Bob Kennedy greeting and thanking the divers

Primary organizer of the event, Jill Boivin, thanking all the volunteers who helped put it together

Emcee "T. J. " Jones announcing the winning raffle ticket for a DUI weight harness

Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and head of the Roddenbery Dive Team
drawing the winning ticket for the door prize

Lorraine Sadler introducing Dale Scheckler, co-publisher of California Diving News
and co-organizer of the Long Beach SCUBA Show

Ken Kurtis of Reefseekers with story tellers vying for the Silver Tongued Devil award

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2010 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia