Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them, like Vancouverite Henry Wang, wear scuba gear. As co-founder of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans, Wang dedicates a minimum of six weekends every spring and summer cleaning up trash from the bottom of Sea to Sky lakes and ocean sites around Vancouver.
“It’s a collective effort,” Wang says of his volunteer crew of scuba and free divers. “If everyone can pitch in and do a little bit, it all helps. We do this for Mother Nature, but it also keeps me diving, and I like hanging out with all the divers—some have become great friends. We usually make a camping weekend out of it.”
Wang founded the group with Jonathan Martin in 2013 after heading under for his first-ever lake dive. “We saw some trash and wanted to take it out, but there was so much we needed more divers.”
Finding more divers proved easy enough, but the trash kept re-appearing each season. Everything from parking street signs to park benches, from laptops, cell phones and GoPros, to old tires and shopping carts—all of it picked up by an underwater army now numbering more than 20 volunteer divers who come from Squamish to Abbotsford and everywhere in between. (They also cover their own costs for equipment and air fills.)
Even after a number of years cleaning local waterways, litter seems to be increasing. Wang has heard of people justifying their actions by using the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ excuse when throwing stuff into the water, but that doesn’t sit well with him.
“When you see all the trash that we pull… it’s annoying. We pulled a barbecue out of the water the other day, and you know that just didn’t end up there by accident. This stuff doesn’t belong here. All the plastics and batteries and foreign things, they’re just leaching into the water table and eventually into the food chain.”
Since 2013, Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans have picked up approximately 35,000 pounds of trash over their 133 local ocean and lake clean-up dives. Their biggest haul? 1,700 pounds of boat-renovation junk near the bottom of the marina at Deep Bay on Bowen Island, including metal bed frames, filing cabinet, La-Z-Boy, and a heavy mass of five anchors all stuck together in an “anchor ball.”
But the number one culprit is beer cans. Wang says they have recovered more than 45,000 beer cans over the years. “Cat Lake in Squamish is beer can city, it’s probably the most contaminated lake we clean.”
When Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans organize an official lake clean-up, they generally include presentation and education components, set up on the docks and beaches, so passersby and the public can actually see how much garbage accumulates under the surface. With any luck, that first-person connection will inspire changes in personal behaviour, as well as help spread the message via social media or word of mouth to encourage everyone keep our lakes and waterways clean.
“Don’t think that beer can that you quietly try to submerge under the water will never be found again,” Wang says. “It’s not cool man. Pack it in, pack it out… it’s not that hard.”
No, it isn’t. Just crush those cans and put them in your pocket, or tie a mesh bag to your floatie. Real superheroes leave no trace. – Todd Lawson