By India Stoughton | The Daily Star
This weekend Lebanon is set to witness a unique form of eco-adventure. Scuba divers from all over the country will come together to clean up the seabed as part of a worldwide initiative to keep the oceans uncontaminated by human waste. Each year in September, divers around the world set aside a day to pick up the rubbish that has accumulated on the ocean floor. This garbage may be out of sight – and correspondingly out of mind – for most members of the public, but its presence in the sea pollutes the waters and presents a danger to marine wildlife.
In Lebanon, Bubbles Club for Divers – a scuba diving and marine activities club located near Jbeil – has organized cleanup events for the past two years. Divers will make their third foray Saturday as a deep-sea garbage-disposal team. Divers are invited to meet at La Rochelle Resort in Amchit to help the underwater activists.
“We have a very dirty seabed,” says George Assaf, founder and owner of Bubbles. “There is debris all over the world but in our country, unfortunately, because of the lack of culture, we have garbage dumped there. So we’re trying to do the best we can, not only to clean but to educate people not to throw [rubbish] in the sea, and to respect our nature.”
Assaf says around 25 divers are expected to take part in Saturday’s cleanup operation. The dive will be followed by a barbecue, to which members of the public are invited. In previous years, he says, they have filled around 30 large garbage bags with rubbish gathered from the ocean floor, and up to 60 bags during tandem sessions conducted by nondivers collecting trash along the nearby seashore.
This year’s dive is taking place off the coast of a resort, meaning that the shoreline is already clean, Assaf says. Underwater, however, it is a different matter. All sorts of garbage accumulates on the seabed.
“Mostly we find cans,” Assaf says, “from coke or beer. We find a lot of tires. I don’t know how they get there. Each year we take out like 10 tires. There is a lot of fishing line as well. … All this stuff – especially plastic – takes a long time to degrade in nature.”
Assaf and his fellow divers were pleasantly surprised to find the effects of the cleanups were long-lasting.
“It seems that this rubbish has been accumulating throughout the years,” he explains, “because the spots we cleaned are relatively clean this year.”
Bubbles Club for Divers is currently in the process of registering a new NGO with the government, aimed at raising environmental awareness, particularly on matter relating to the pollution of the sea. The organization, simply called Bubbles, will strive to maintain the Lebanese coast and marine environment. Membership will be open to anyone who wishes to help.
In the meantime, Assaf hopes the cleanup day will serve not only to improve conditions on the seabed, but to raise awareness among the public.
“This initiative has been criticized by many skeptical people so far,” he says, “claiming that we are tackling the consequence and not the cause. I would like to point out that since we have launched this initiative more and more divers and nondivers are taking part in it, [and] more people are becoming aware that littering the sea and the land is wrong.
“Unfortunately, some still think that it’s natural and normal to throw garbage in the sea. We hope that a day comes when we won’t have to conduct such an event anymore.”