As Adam and I started to descend, I looked down and caught my first glimpse of an experience underwater that I will never forget. Through the glassy, blue ocean, I remember my eyes widening as I saw what seemed like an endless line of divers from all over the world working together to try to maintain our beautiful ocean. It was amazing! So many people carefully picking up trash off the colorful reef for a massive ocean cleanup in paradise!
VOLUNTEER WHILE YOU VACATION!
This week, Adam and I GOT a chance to go to the famous Quarterly Reef Cleanup on the Dutch island of Bonaire and WE JUMPED ON IT! We did a little research to try to understand what the ocean cleanup event was really like, but we had no idea what an awesome day we were in for!
WHERE IS BONAIRE AND WHY IS IT SO SPECIAL?
Bonaire is a small island just off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean. It has incredibly clear water with rich marine life on reefs that begin right up against shore. The country is well-known for its pioneering role in the preservation of nature and has a coastline carefully protected by the Bonaire National Marine Park.
BONAIRE IS ACTING OCEAN-MINDED!
The Quarterly Reef Cleanup has been a Bonaire tradition for the past ten years. Every three months, one area of beach and reef around the island is designated to be cleaned by volunteers. This time, an area named The Front Porch was chosen.
Then, a large cleanup party is organized by Dive Friends Bonaire including free drinking water, free air tanks for certified divers, mesh bags for collecting trash in the water, a large trash receptacle, and Dive Friends staff volunteering to help sort and record the different types of trash found all around the site. And a free BBQ at the end of the day for people who come to the cleanup! Incredible!
HOW MANY VOLUNTEERS CAN YOU FIT AT ONE OCEAN CLEANUP?!
We arrived at The Front Porch to find quite a scene! Imagine a perfectly sunny day shining down on a beach-side parking lot – BUT in addition to over fifty trucks, cars and Suzukis in the parking lot, the area is FULL of smiling people—divers, snorkelers and beachcombers–helping each other get into all different types of water adventure gear to get in the water and clean up the reef.
The turnout was impressive with well over 100 people showing up to help maintain the beautiful place that we love. We saw volunteers in simple rash guards and shorts, snorkels and fins, full 5mm. wetsuits and hoods, rebreather gear, and more. Everyone was welcome!
In particular, Adam and I were impressed at how many young divers and snorkelers we saw, getting involved while learning about giving back. We have been to organized reef clean ups in the past, but this was something different.
Beach volunteers scoured the beach filling bags with garbage while snorkelers and divers got in the water to fill mesh bags with trash. The number of languages being spoken around us was uncountable—French, Dutch, Spanish, English, German, Papiamento…volunteers from all over the world came together to help make the ocean a cleaner and safer place—and have an excellent time!
GETTING INVOLVED IN AN OCEAN CLEANUP IS SIMPLE
Adam and I made our way to the Dive Friends tent, signed in, were told to work in a team of two, and where to pick up a mesh bag and air tanks. We joined the crowd of volunteers in the parking lot to get into dive gear, then walked into the water from shore.
Once we got underwater, the fun really began. As Adam and I started navigating down the sandy, gentle slope, we passed MANY other divers with full sacks of reef trash, but very little for us to pick up. However, once we descended a little deeper, and looked more closely, the purpose of the ocean cleanup was more clear.
There were objects wedged around and lying on reef every few feet. Things like single use water bottles, plastic cups, candy wrappers and disposable forks and spoons cluttered the sand and reef area.
Some of the objects like a couple of glass bottles were so tempting to grab, but they had long ago become encrusted homes to a whole community of life including small animals and needed to stay. It was very important to check the items we picked up for disposal for critters and marine life before we pulled it out of the water.
WHAT A FANTASTIC DIVE!
Throughout our awesome cleanup mission, we were joined by all sorts of marine life investigating what all the volunteers were doing. Our fun sightings included two young turtles playing in the waves with fish, a LARGE tarpon guarding its territory over a drop off and a shame faced crab finding lunch in the sand (one of the only shame faced crabs I’ve ever seen!!)!
THE BAG GOT HEAVY QUICKLY
Our 74-minute dive was enough time underwater to nearly fill the reusable garbage bag provided. When we finished the dive, we walked out of the water and were met by the gracious shore volunteers who took the trash for final marine life inspection.
The Dive Friends team then noted and tallied up every single item that was brought out of the water and put in a bin for proper recycling and disposal.
OCEAN CLEANUPS ARE INSPIRING
On Bonaire, there are several companies and foundations that have exemplary programs for conservation on vacation with little to no cost to you as a visitor. For example, Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire has many different programs for visitors to help out with saving endangered turtles. Echo – Parrots and People in Bonaire is always looking for short-term and long-term assistance in conserving the yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot. The time spent giving back with other volunteers has rewards further much reaching than just the few hours you donated.
PITCH IN A BIT EVERY DAY
The famous Quarterly Reef Cleanup is the biggest effort we have ever seen, and certainly worth attending. However, keeping the reef free of trash is an ongoing project that you can assist at any time.
While traveling near the ocean, Adam and I have started making it a point to contact local dive shops to ask to borrow trash bags and equipment to conduct our own cleanups as well as whether they have any organized ocean cleanups scheduled while we are visiting. The help is greatly appreciated. While getting involved, we have made awesome friends in the process, met more of the local community and had so much fun while giving back.
This ocean cleanup was a great reminder that we can do our part EVERY DAY, not just at designated times or places. Garbage and debris can be picked up and carefully thrown away from the sidewalk, an open parking lot and from streets on a normal workday as well as while you travel. Part of keeping our world’s oceans cleaner is keeping trash from flying into it in the first place.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I did not receive any compensation for this article. All opinions in this article are my own and do not express the opinions of others or my employer. Also, this is an article about my experience with one company and will probably vary for others during different times, with different people and with different companies. Use your head.