PHILIPSBURG:--- On Saturday 19 November a trained team of St Maarten SCUBA divers went out for their second underwater cleanup of the year in an aim to reduce the amount of remaining hurricane Irma debris still littering our underwater coastline.
As part of the SXM Coastal CleanUp project, 12 participants received scuba dive training during the summer months to safely search and recover small to medium-sized debris that remains underwater from Hurricane Irma. The extensive training was finalized in October with the PADI Divers Against Debris course, after which they were able to apply their skills and start removing debris.
The participants, along with additional volunteers from the 2021 SXM Coastal CleanUp program, were taken out by boats from dive schools Sxm Divers and Dive Adventures, as well as The Scuba Shop. The debris is then brought to The Scuba Shop where the participants sort, weigh, and log the debris before disposal.
The first SXM Coastal CleanUp event of 2022 collected an impressive 613 LBS of debris from the Simpson Bay coastline, which consisted of PVC piping, roofing, and other smaller hurricane debris items as well as large amounts of single-use plastics and everyday littering. In this second clean-up, the team collected 458 LBS of the same kind of debris, in the exact same spot, just a few weeks later.
This past weekend some of the SXM Coastal participants also volunteered in another cleanup held by the AUC medical school, which resulted in another 424 LBS of collected debris from the same location.
“The amount of debris that we keep collecting in a single, hour-long dive is (sadly) impressive,” said Kim Frye of The Scuba Shop. “Due to the coastal currents, the corner of Simpson Bay is a collection point, especially for the lighter plastics that in other places along our coastline float out to sea before we are able to remove them. In addition, every time we have heavy weather, the sand is moved over the seafloor and more debris is exposed in an area already “cleaned”. The job seems endless, but I hope someday that we come back empty-handed from an underwater cleanup event!”
Having tied this project in with data collection programs PADI AWARE Dive Against Debris and the EU In-No-Plastics databases, we have collected data on our findings in the past two cleanups, and can safely say that there is still a lot of roofing and PVC piping left from hurricane Irma on our shores. This poses a huge risk during future storm activity, as pieces may get thrown onto the shore or pushed into important marine environments with strong wave activity.
The good news however was that we did see a decrease in the amount of plastic bags we collected, which means that the site is becoming significantly cleaner. Hopefully, this shows that our community members and visitors are reducing the amount of single-use plastic that is allowed to enter our environment.
“It is heartwarming to see these young adults engaging in environmental activities”, says Steve Duzanson, who came to visit The Scuba Shop where the debris was brought for sorting, logging, and weighing for data collection purposes before disposal. Mr. Duzanson, who is head of R4CR and manages all projects that are part of the island’s recovery program, also said: “Each and every project in this programme is so very different to one another, whilst all still with the same aim to build a stronger and more resilient Sint Maarten. This particular project does so by training young adults to become more aware of our island’s environment, and at the same time be prepared for future hurricanes to come. This project is a fantastic contribution to the World Bank Recovery program.”
Kidz at Sea wishes to extend a special thanks to all participating dive companies in the program (Dive Adventures, Ocean Explorers, Sxm Divers, and The Scuba Shop), the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation, as well as to the dedicated dive instructors and volunteers who have been a very important part in making this project happen.