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News and Media

News and Media

Editor's note: Be sure to look at our photo gallery below and see tons of great images documenting the record-breaking day's work.

By Founder and President Kurt Lieber

By now you certainly know about the utter disaster that leveled the town of Lahaina, on the Hawaiian Island of Maui.  We were scheduled to do an underwater cleanup of the reefs just outside their harbor, and had chartered a dive boat with Dive Maui, but obviously that got canceled. I had arrived on the island the very day this all went down but returned to California the next day.

We will continue to hold the people of Maui in our hearts, and we’re working on plans to go there to clean debris that got into the coastal waters during that tragic day. I’ll keep you posted on developments.

On the California Front

Thankfully, we have a very experienced debris-removal crew in California that continues to search for and remove abandoned lobster traps while I am working elsewhere.

Dave Merrill took the lead, organized a trip to Anacapa Island on Sunday, August 13th, and he captained our boat Mr. Barker’s LegaSea all day. 

Captain Dave releasing snails later this day.

Earlier, Dave and I had discussed the exact place to go where we felt there was a good chance of finding more abandoned traps. That meant going to a slightly different area around Arch Rock.

Since I got back early from Hawai’i, I tagged along for the outing, and handled the topside photography.

We met up at the boat slip at 8am.  There’s always plenty to do before we can leave the dock. We loaded all the gear onto the boat, put the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) in the water so we could tow it to the site, completed the rest of our pre-departure checklist, took a few pictures of the entire crew, and we pushed off around 9am.

Divers on this trip were: Kim Cardenas, Craig LaPorte, Eric Schaad, Geoff Walsh, and David Williams.  The boat crew was: Nancy Huh, Dave Merrill, Tim Pearson, Sue St. Sure, and me.

ODA Volunteer Ghost Gear Cleanup Crew before departureODA Ghost Gear Cleanup Crew before departure - from left to right, back row: Kurt Lieber,
Nancy Huh, Tim Pearson, Sue St. Sure, Geoff Walsh, Kim Cardenas, and Craig LaPorte.
Front row - from left to right: David Williams, Eric Schaad, and Captain Dave Merrill.

Sea conditions on the ride out were pretty good, with mostly two-foot waves and the occasional three-footers disturbing our slumber (just kidding…no sleeping on an ODA debris-removal expedition!).  As we approached the island, conditions looked great, no wind or waves to speak of.  Lots of birds, with several cormorants swimming and diving all around our boat. 

Cormorant visits the ODA boat

This was Eric and David’s first time out with ODA, and they had never used scooters before, so we decided to train them on how to safely operate them at another time. They gladly helped out with all the crew responsibilities.

Everyone got prepared for the dive and we paused to take a crew shot.

ODA Volunteer SCUBA Divers

Kim, Craig, and Geoff all jumped in, grabbed their scooters, headed to the anchor line (to follow it down to the bottom), and went down into 75 feet of water at 10:38am.

Ocean Defender Kim ready to enter the water

As they were heading to the anchor line Kim said that she could see the anchor from the surface. What?!?! That meant they had outstanding visibility. We’re usually diving in visibility (vis) that only lets us see as far as 5-10 feet.

The Bonanza Begins

Within minutes of them hitting the bottom, we saw lift bags break the surface. Within 15 minutes there were two more sets of bags that had popped up. Eric, Tim, and David quickly got in the RIB and started the laborious process of attaching a tow line onto the trap and then hauling it over to the LegaSea where we hooked the davit line onto the trap.

ODA Lift bags indicate marine debris is ready to remove.

Sounds easy enough to execute, but it is anything but easy.  The trap hangs down from the lift bags, something like three feet underwater. This means whoever is trying to attach that hook needs to reach down that far from a rocking boat to haul the trap up and not fall overboard at the same time.

Ocean Defenders RIB crew retrieves abandoned fishing gear.

Eventually we got the first trap up on the deck, and the RIB crew hooked up the second one. By this time Kim and Geoff were back on the boat with tales to tell. But first we had to get that third trap up. That’s when we saw what they were so excited about.

As the trap was coming out of the water on the davit line (crane) we could see some critters in there. Stuck in there were several lobsters milling about and two sheep crabs.

Derelict lobster trap full of lobsters

Once on deck, we opened up the trap door and saw at least a dozen really big lobsters. All of us grabbed some gloves so we could get them out of there and into the water. As we posed for some pictures and tossed them back into the sea, we counted each one.

Lobster Freedom Party!

Nineteen in all! And these were all big ones, in the two-three-pound range. One of them was a female and had thousands of eggs she was incubating (see our photo). What a euphoric feeling it is to give these animals a second chance at life. Live long and procreate!

Lobster with eggs

Once all that fun was over, Craig climbed back aboard, and we all took a lunch break. Then we found out about how epic this dive was. The underwater (UW) vis was like the tropics, at 50 to 70 feet. Once they all got down to the anchor resting on the bottom, they immediately saw three traps. Kim worked on hooking lift bags up to one trap, while Geoff worked on another one, and Craig did the same to the third one.

Craig also had an UW camera with him, so he got some epic footage of what they found. Check out this footage of the trapped lobsters.

Kim and Geoff were talking about several giant sea bass they saw. At one point there were five of them milling about and watching what the divers were doing. Craig got footage of one of them. He estimated that it was six to seven feet long. That is indeed a giant!

After our 90-minute lunch we moved the boat to another spot and dropped anchor, this time in 53 feet of water. Kim, Craig and Geoff went down around 1pm.

Again, within mere minutes, there were two sets of lift bags at the surface, not more than 30 feet in front of the boat. The RIB crew did their usual thing and we now had five traps aboard.

RIB crew attaches trap to davit (crane) for hauling up to deck.
Electronic crane makes the lifting easy.
The crew maneuvers the trap onto the deck.

Then we saw two more sets of bags out in the distance. What?! This was just insane. In all our years of doing this our record for one day was seven traps. At this point, we had tied that record.

Just as that was running through my mind, Craig popped up and asked if we had any more lift bags, that there was a trap right under the boat that he could get.

At this point the bow was awash in traps, and I didn’t think we had any more space for more. So, I told him to forget that trap and we’d come back for it another time. 

Soon everyone was back onboard and talking about that last trap. They wanted to break the record! Hearing how easy it would be, Dave and I rearranged the traps on the bow and made more room. We also found one of the traps had well over 100 turbin snails stuck in it. We got them out of there and sent them back into their ocean realm.

Eric and David wanted to be part of this, so Kim went ahead and gave them a lesson on how to operate scooters. Around 3pm, Kim, Eric, David, and Geoff submerged and nabbed that last trap.

New ODA Diver David splashes in!New ODA Diver David splashes in!
Eric's first splash-in as an ODA Diver!Eric's first splash-in as an ODA Diver!

And voila! Record broken! 

Here is the happy and proud ODA ocean conservation crew with their prize "possesions"! Actually, they'll only be in our hands for a short time, but nothing makes us smile like a pile of former hazardous ghost gear sitting on our boat deck!

ODA Crew celebrates their "Catch of the Day"!ODA Crew celebrates their "Catch of the Day"!

The last week has been an emotional rollercoaster. Our hearts remain heavy about Maui (and will remember forever), but for a moment we got to feel the elation of getting eight lobster traps out of the water while freeing over 100 animals to live their lives as nature sees fit.

We could sure use you on our "crew"! How about contributing towards fuel for an ocean cleanup like this one? Please click the donation button below and accept our thanks!

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