After battling the forces of nature (red tide) and physics (leaking boats don't float long), ODA was back in the water in full force for the Fall of 2005.
Oct. 1 was the opening day of the lobster hunt and it was our intention to make note of all the traps that have been set along the coast, from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach, so we could scan these areas later on our dives to locate abandoned traps. As we left Newport Harbor, we saw immediately that hundreds of traps had been set, about 50 of them within 300 feet of the mouth of the harbor.
It was a nice day, 2 to 3 foot seas and reasonable visibility of 7 to 20 feet. Heck, it seemed like you could see forever compared to the 3 foot vis we had most of the summer. Chris Aultman, Mike Z, and I eagerly made our way to Crescent Bay/Seal Rock to see what we could find. It didn't take us long to locate 2 abandoned traps. We got the first one onboard with no problem. We left the second one attached to a lift bag which the currents were taking directly to Seal Rock. We quickly swam out to retrieve the trap, and while Chris kept it from hitting the rocks, I swam back to the boat to try to maneuver into position to pull the crew and the trap onboard.
The engine was conking out at the most inopportune times and the waves were picking up. All this while we were 50 feet from the rocks and heading ever closer. I managed to restart the engine, put a tow line in the water and tow everyone away from the rocks. When we got a safe distance away from potential catastrophe, we loaded the trap onto the boat and got the 2 divers back onboard.
Unfortunately in all the turmoil, we dropped the video camera and didn't even realize it until we had pulled away from the scene. When it dawned on us what we had left behind, we immediately went back to the spot to search for it. After 20 minutes and running low on air, we decided to come back at another time when we had more energy. The camera and the custom underwater housing are very expensive to replace and the tape contains some great footage of ODA in action.
Two days later, Oct. 3rd, I went back and did a beach dive to try and locate the camera. Even though visibility had improved to 10 to 25 feet, I had no success.
The following weekend, Oct. 8th, Chris Aultman, Erik Burrows and I met at Crescent Beach to try another beach dive to look for the camera. As we walked down the stairs to the entry we heard loud crashing waves, not a good sign. Before we got to the bottom of the stairs there was a group of about 10 divers evaluating conditions. There were small waves that were in the 2 to 3 foot range and big ones, which were bone-crushers. We could see Seal Rock was taking a beating from the surge, so we called off the dive and decided to return when conditions were better.
Chris Aultman and I decided to do another beach dive on Oct. 13th. It was a gorgeous day, with flat seas and what turned out to be fantastic visibility of 20 to 40 feet! Absolutely the best conditions of the year. Our hopes were high as we swam out to Seal Rock and did our search pattern. We saw a lot of fish, several lobsters, a couple of sea lions, an octopus and 2 eels. But no camera. Other than the frustration of not finding the camera, it was a spectacular dive.
On October 15th, ODA started a new venture. We have agreed to do burial at sea of people's cremated pets. When I was at the Animal Rights convention in the summer, I met and talked with a representative of Guardian Animal Aftercare. GAA needs someone to do the burial at sea because they no longer have access to a boat. So now ODA is going to work in conjunction with GAA to perform that service.
John Milligan, Erik Burrows and I headed out to federal waters, over 3 miles away from land, and buried the beloved pets' ashes at sea. It's nice to know we can give these animals a decent burial and I look forward to providing this service for a long time. We will put up a link to the GAA website soon for those who would like to know more about this group.
Next we headed to Seal Rock to have one last look for the expensive camera. Seas were reasonable at 1 to 2 feet and the vis was in the 10 to 25 foot range. Erik and I took 2 dives. The first was east of Seal Rock where we believe the camera was lost. By now I've gotten to know this reef very well. It's a great place to explore, with lots of big rocks jutting from the 35 foot bottom to within a few feet of the surface. Lots of gorgonians clinging to the rocks, in addition to a variety of anemones. It is easy to see why we haven't been able to find the camera, there are probably a thousand nooks and crannies that it could be tucked into. Needless to say, we did not find the elusive prey. But we did find 2 weight bars with about 30 feet of line attached and removed them from the sea.
For the 2nd dive we decided to give up on the camera and go looking for traps. This time we went on the outside of the reef and headed west. Erik and I got separated at one point. When we finally surfaced to look for each other we were about 200 feet apart. He had found about 30 feet of an old anchor chain and I found an abandoned trap with about 70 feet of line still attached. So overall it was a good haul.
At the request of San Diego Animal Advocates (SDAA), I attended a press conference in La Jolla on Oct. 21. The city is trying to destroy the harbor seal rookery that has established a beachhead at Casa Cove, in La Jolla. The rookery consists of approximately 200 wild animals. The city is saying that the seals are polluting the waters of the cove with feces and wants to do anything they can to get the seals out of there. In reality there are only a few individuals that are advocating removing the seals. Several surveys reveal that 80% of the local citizens want the seals to be left alone and enjoy the opportunity to see nature up close. San Diego has come up with a proposal to dredge the area and in so doing will drive the animals out of the cove.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act specifically states that you can not harass, injure or intimidate marine mammals. Yet this is exactly what the city wants to do. There were 8 film crews and several reporters from various new agencies in attendance. I want to thank SDAA for putting the conference together and for giving me, along with several other group representatives, the opportunity to express their thoughts.
The next day the decision was made by the authorities to stop the dredging plan. So we won this battle, but in the environmental movement, all victories are temporary. We will keep our eyes and ears open to the efforts by the city of San Diego to continue to push for the removal of these wonderful animals. It is always a thrill to get to dive with pinipeds and ODA will continue to fight for their protection. Myself and many others don't see why one small cove can't be set aside for the seals. After all, it's the only seal rookery along the coastline in the US south of Point Conception.
The next day, Oct. 22, found Erik Burrows, Chris Bell and I out looking for more abandoned traps off the Laguna coast. First dive was at Fishermans' Cove where we were investigating a report that had come in about 2 traps in the area. Because we were in shallow waters, and didn't want to end up on the rocks or beach, I manned the boat while Erik and Chris went searching. They didn't find the traps, but did come up with a lot of plastic and trap remnants.
The second dive was at Deadman's reef. This is just south of Seal Rock. I had never been there before and was looking forward to seeing a new dive site. We were treated to an outstanding dive. The sea floor is about 60 feet deep, and the rocks shoot up to within 15 feet of the surface. It appeared to be in very good health, lots of anemones, feather dusters, Christmas tree worms, eels, big school of fish and lots of lobsters. We didn't find any intact traps, but we did remove a lot of trap remnants. I can see why this site is so highly touted, it has everything Southern California diving has to offer, except a healthy kelp bed.
We ushered out the last week of October by going back to Seal Rock one more time to look for the camera. This time is was with Scott and Leslie Sheckman (her first time diving with ODA and in cold water). We had the good fortune of having a pod of 20-25 dolphins pass within 50 feet of the boat as we geared up for the dive. It is truly amazing to see how big they are when they come that close. As we dropped down the visibility went anywhere from 10 to 30 feet. Great conditions and a great dive, but alas no camera recovered.
October was the busiest month ODA has ever had and the boat held up reasonably well with the rebuilt carberator. However, we are not able to put many underwater pictures up on the website anymore because of the loss of the underwater camera. We are offering a $200 reward to the diver who finds the camera and housing (see picture below), or anyone who provides a legitimate lead to the person who may have it. Please alert your dive friends about the loss, the reward, and show them this picture. It is crucial to the success of ODA that we have the ability to highlight what is going on underwater, and that camera was key.
Thanks to all the volunteers that made this such a successful Fall! Please keep the trap reports coming in and with the cost of fuel almost doubling from last year, we need donations however large or small you can afford.
Founder & President
Ocean Defenders Alliance