On June 8, I was invited by Vida Aquática Dive Center to participate in a dive and beach cleanup day to celebrate World Oceans Day. Vida Aquática is located at the Mahekal Beach Resort in Playa del Carmen. On Thursday morning, I headed to Calle 38 and the beach to meet Barbara, instructor and manager of Vida Aquática and Roman, instructor and technical director. Roman was going to be our dive master for the day. There were four of us diving with Roman, and we were all excited to get in the water.
The water was like glass as we headed south from Mahekal´s beach, and I remarked how it never gets old looking at the incredible blues of the sea here.
We arrived at the site and rolled back into the water. Our first dive would take us to about 70 feet (about 21 meters). We saw some of my favorite fish on the dive, including a pair of white-spotted filefish. The real treat came, however, when I saw Roman give us the signal for a turtle. It took me a few seconds to find it, which was pretty surprising when I saw how big it was! It was a male loggerhead and one of the largest I´ve seen. Its massive head was easily 12 inches (30 cm) wide. The current was mild and allowed us to travel along easily with the turtle staying with us for about ten minutes – quite a treat!
At the end of the dive, we climbed into the boat and headed to a secluded beach just north of Punta Venado. We saw members of Abyss Dive Center already there, taking a break from their own extensive beach cleanup for World Oceans Day. They had collected over a dozen bags of garbage and were going to be picking up more. After chatting with them, we decided to hit the other end of the beach where we found an incredible amount of garbage. Everyone, including our boat captain, pitched in to help. It is important to note that the majority, if not all, of the garbage on the beach washes in from the sea, as currents carry the waste from near and far. The amount of garbage we found was staggering, the vast majority of which was plastic. There were flip-flops, sneakers, plastic bottles of all kinds, oil containers, bottle caps, straws, (and more than a few plastic water bottles from a very large tour company here in the area). We spent about 30 minutes on this section of the beach, picking up four or five large plastic bags of garbage.
After loading the boat with all the bags, we headed out for our second dive. The second dive was a shallower dive of about 45 feet (13 meters). Again, the diving was spectacular, and we saw huge schools of fish, including margates, porkfish, and grunts. We also saw a nice, big, green moray eel and a huge, black grouper.
We finished the dive, climbed into the boat and headed back to Playa. I was feeling so fortunate to have had the opportunity to dive two beautiful sites. At the same time I was disappointed, yet unsurprised, by the garbage we found on the beach. What an ironic way to celebrate World Oceans Day – cleaning up the immense and avoidable pollution contaminating our waters. Back at the dive shop, we unloaded the boats of over 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of garbage. According to Barbara, plastic bottles and containers made up 50% of the trash gathered. Barbara and Roman told me later that after our beach cleanup, they are considering making it a monthly event. I hope other dive shops and businesses in the area will follow their lead.
For more information about Vida Aquática Dive Center, please visit them on Facebook/Vida Aquática Dive Center. They are a full-service dive center offering a variety of courses and dive packages.