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WET & WILD : Divers Throw Selves Into Ocean Cleanup

July 21, 1994|DAVID HALDANE | David Haldane is a staff writer for the Times Orange County Edition.

About five years ago, a group of local divers decided that just too much trash was infesting Orange County waters.

"People got tired of looking at it," said Kimberly Woods of Costa Mesa. "So they adopted the idea that every time you dive, you just throw the trash in a goody bag, bring it up and throw it away."

Today, Woods is president of the organization that grew out of that pledge: DIVERS, or Divers Involved Voluntarily in Environmental Rehabilitation and Safety. On July 30, the 50-member club will live up to its name by hosting its fifth annual underwater and beach cleanup at Big Corona, off Marguerite Avenue in Corona del Mar.

"There's quite a bit of trash down there. It's time to start repairing some of the damage we've done. This is important for public awareness. If people could see where that bottle they get from the concession stand ends up, they'd be more likely to throw it away," said Woods, 29, referring to debris getting washed out to sea by the tide.

It's not the first environmental project in which the club has been involved.

Two years ago, the group's divers helped another club with an abalone re-population program off Catalina Island.

This month, they assisted in the Great American Fish Count, a statewide effort in which volunteer divers helped count various fish populations off California.

And recently the club initiated an ambitious effort to help replenish the dwindling coastal kelp population in test areas by reducing sea urchins, which prey on the plants. Beginning off Cleo Street in Laguna Beach, the group spent a month combing the bottom to remove sea urchins by either smashing them into bits of food for local fish or disposing of them on the surface.

After 30 days, divers observed that the original colony of 17 kelp plants had been augmented by several new juvenile plants, Woods said, adding that the results were encouraging. But the group eventually abandoned the site because of its excessive surge, or underwater wave motion. They are considering Woods Cove--also in Laguna--as the project's future site.

But by far the club's most visible environmental effort is the annual underwater cleanup, expected to attract more than 100 divers on July 30 from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the volunteers--each assigned to an offshore area--are expected to haul in more than 600 pounds of trash.

Previous years' finds have included 55-gallon drums, bicycles, shopping carts, abandoned lobster traps, a kitchen sink, wastebaskets and cellular phones as well as more mundane objects, such as fishing knives and rods, tackle lines, pens, silverware, children's toys, sandals, tennis shoes, towels, blankets, crab nets, diving gear, plastic six-pack rings, bottles, cans and rubber tires.

As usual, Woods said, this year's booty will be catalogued for the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington, D.C., which monitors such things. It will then be segregated into recyclable and non-recyclable piles and, essentially, put out with the trash.

And as in previous years, she said, prizes will be awarded to the diver who finds the most trash, the one who finds the most unique item and the one who recovers trash that is potentially the most damaging to the environment.

A prize will also be given to the non-diver who picks up the most trash on the beach, Woods said.

Because the cleanup is a major fund-raiser for the club, a pre-registration fee of $5 will be charged, with the price going up to $10 for those registering on the day of the event. The deadline for pre-registration is Sunday, July 24, with the first 100 registrants receiving free underwater goody bags.

Volunteers should pick up forms at their local dive shops or call (714) 722-9406.

"Our motto is 'Cleaning up our playground,' " Woods said. "We need to make the planet better, not only for the next generation, but for ourselves. "

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