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November 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How You Can Purge Plastic from the Ocean

from the November, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Worrying about those plastic straws polluting the ocean? You need to think bigger than that. While straws produce perhaps 0.03 percent of the plastic pollution, says Nadia Aly at, a whopping 46 percent is discarded fishing gear. The biggest problem: ghost fishing nets, which trap animals long after they've been consigned to the deep.

But this is where we divers can help -- by starting or joining efforts to get them out of the water.

Take the example of diver Harry Chan, 66, from Hong Kong, who regularly teams up with helpers to hunt down the ghost fishing nets that collect in the local waters. Chan's team has recovered more than 176,000 pounds of discarded fishing nets in 150 cleanup dives. That's an astronomical number for such a tiny area, suggesting hundreds of millions of pounds of ghost fishing nets worldwide.

Under a fishing pier at Delray Beach, Florida, in June, 633 divers engaged in an underwater cleanup, setting a Guinness in the process. A local dive shop, Dixie Divers, led the effort to sign up divers. Within two hours, the divers had collected 9000 pieces of debris, which included 3,200 pounds of fishing gear (half of that fishing weights, the result of years of anglers cutting lines free).

Dive Against Debris, a program run by Project Aware, the PADI-sponsored environmental organization, rallies sport divers to remove underwater trash and debris and report the types, quantities, and locations of materials collected. To date, over 50,000 divers from 114 countries have taken part in the citizen science program, and their results are added to the global Dive Against Debris map ( Plastic fishing line tops their items-collected list, followed by plastic fragments.

What Can You Do?

How about turning your next dive into a survey? Dive Against Debris has simple instructions on its website on how to collect debris and report your results ( Take a step farther and join one of its sponsored group dives. Or, as Dixie Divers did, start your own and rally other divers to the cause. Even if you don't break a world record, you'll still be making a big difference.

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