NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Freediving for Marine Debris

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A talented freediver and fisherman in addition to being a crack marine debris specialist, Derek LeVault is today’s guest blogger.

For years scientific and working diving has been synonymous with Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA). But then again, for a long time people drilled holes in their head or covered their body with leeches to remedy diseases. It is fortunate for all of us that some innovative minds dispensed with the blood-sucking worms and invented Tylenol. We are also fortunate for the forward thinkers like Ray Boland and Kyle Koyanagi at CRED’s (NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC), Coral Reef Ecosystem Division) Marine Debris Division, who realized the merits of freediving and opted to utilize it for their operations rather than the conventional practice of SCUBA diving.

One such merit is our innate ability to freedive, a phenomenon referred to as the “mammalian dive reflex.” The human body is literally a freediving machine just waiting to be unleashed. The “on switch” to this machine is simply water, something the Marine Debris Specialist has no shortage of. Cool water around our face and the additional pressure of water cues our bodies to make slight physiological changes, such as a lowered heart rate, to conserve oxygen and help us dive without breathing. In essence, we’re all born to freedive, which is enough motivation for me, but wait, there’s more!

The removal of marine debris requires a dive profile that looks more like an EKG than a standard SCUBA profile. To reign in derelict fishing gear requires, in no particular order, slicing, sawing, swearing, conferring, knot tying, reconferring, knot untying, pulling, pushing, punting, karate chops, hauling, hoisting, and any number of other maneuvers, any of which may be required at the surface or at depth. So on any particular net the Marine Debris Specialist may need to ascend and descend several times, but operations do not stop after one net. No sir! An individual Marine Debris Specialist may proceed in this manner continuously for several hours over several kilometers, a feat that would likely leave a SCUBA diver with some tingling limbs and aching joints, if you know what I mean.

Freediving gear is also more conducive to marine debris operations than SCUBA gear, mainly because there’s less of it. Marine debris drifts through the bounding main until it snags on an object with many knobs and protrusions, of which a SCUBA diver has many. All those hoses and valves–life lines to a SCUBA diver–are simply bait for a marauding net. Plus, SCUBA gear causes significant drag. The Marine Debris Specialist’s insatiable appetite for net requires him or her to be a creature of speed, and you don’t need to be Michael Phelps to realize you can swim faster without 30 pounds riding on your back. Minimizing gear is also important due to space and weight constraints on the boat. By the end of the day the boat often looks like, and indeed is, a heap of trash with two motors and some divers sticking out. Tanks, regulators, and BC’s just don’t fit into that equation.

Admittedly, SCUBA diving has a number of applications, but marine debris removal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is not one of them. The fact is, freediving is safer, more efficient, and looks three times cooler. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take a look at the deck of the R/V Oscar Elton Sette and you, like those visionaries at CRED, will see that freediving is a key ingredient to the cure for marine debris.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

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