Volunteers participate in 13th Operation Clean Sweep
A dumpster full of corroded crab traps, pipes, tarp and more emerged from the ocean’s floor during Operation Clean Sweep, the Santa Barbara Waterfront Department’s annual harbor cleanup.
Waterfront officials canceled the past two years’ Clean Sweeps, so seasoned “sweepers” have waited to dive in until Sunday morning for the 13th Operation Clean Sweep.
“It’s almost like we’ve picked up right where we left off,” Harbor Operations Manager Erik Engebretson told the News-Press. “We have folks today that have been volunteers since we started.”
Santa Barbara city divers, Santa Barbara City College dive program graduates and Salty Dog Dive Service staff were among the event’s 50 volunteers.
The effort focused on the trash beneath the commercial fishing docks at the Santa Barbara Harbor.
Divers swam down, clipping rope onto garbage and guiding it to the dock. Volunteers above water pulled the rope up, threw the mucky items into bins and carted the trash to a large dumpster.
Waterfront Public Information Officer Chris Bell estimated that this year’s haul was the largest yet.
The cleanup changes location annually, so it takes about five years to make a full rotation.
David Running, a Waterfront maintenance diver, guesses that the two-year gap likely didn’t make a huge difference on the haul.
“The longer you go between the more stuff is gonna accumulate, but I don’t think I don’t think it was that bad,” he said.
Plastic bins with holes drilled out comprised most of Sunday’s trash pile. Fishermen store live crabs in these containers, holding them underwater to keep the crabs alive until market time.
A diver hauled up one of these boxes and found around five live crabs inside, but that wasn’t the oddest find of the day.
One volunteer group found a swordfish bill (and separated it from the rest of the haul).
Waterfront staff assume most of the trash they recovered ended up on the seafloor accidentally, either by a boater’s misstep or a strong gust of wind.
Although the items may have been light enough to catch the breeze, they’re heavier when lifted from the ocean. Creatures like mussels or sea slugs cling onto the large trash, and containers fill with sludge.
Mr. Running, who has participated in two other Clean Sweeps, noticed larger debris Sunday. (Some pieces were so large the dock’s lifts were struggling to pull them upwards.)
His main concern, though, is visibility. Another diver told volunteers he was trying not to reach the seafloor, as it stirred up silt around him.
“It’s really easy to get disoriented, and you don’t know which direction you’re going,” he said. “So if you’re trying to search, like under the dock running lengthwise, you could see something and grab onto it, and then your visibility turns to nothing.
“And while you’re looking, you rotate and, all of a sudden, you’re swimming in the completely wrong direction. So trying to make sure you actually cover the whole area is probably the biggest challenge.”
Each diver had a section to cover and a crew of at least four volunteers to pull on the rope and lift debris.
Volunteers were splashed with thick, grey goo (to varying degrees), and washed piles of sludge off the deck. Many arrived in muck boots, ready for the slime.
It wasn’t hard to attract volunteers, Mr. Engebretson said. In fact, he turned people away to keep with strict health and safety protocols.
When public health guidance loosened, he welcomed more volunteers to the operation.
The city’s divers frequently work with SBCC students, calling on the classes to assist in periodic maintenance and gain experience.
The clean up efforts certify the Santa Barbara Waterfront as a participant of the Clean Marinas Program, a title it has held since July 2006.
As a new part of the event this year, 10 volunteers gathered trash from West Beach as well.
Officials also provided free electronic recycling at a marina.
Waterfront maintenance worker Terry Fransen says he often has to pick up an old television set left by a boat owner, so the electronic recycling opportunity could help relieve small incidents of illegal dumping.
But few electronics were gathered Sunday, apart from a cell phone and a car battery fished from the seafloor.