How to organize an underwater clean-up

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Mundo Azul special guidelines for underwater clean-ups

The following is a list of rules you should consider when participating in an underwater clean-up in order to ensure your own security, to avoid loss of animal life and habitat destruction caused by the activity.

  • If you are planning an underwater clean-up, require all divers to be certified (minimum open water diver).
  • Contact local dive stores, dive instructors and/or lifeguards for advice on the dive site if you are not familiar with the location.
  • Have people available to assist divers in and out of the water.
  • Evaluate the site prior to the event. If you are doing an underwater cleanup, dive the site a few times to get a feel for the currents and any underwater hazards. Talk to other divers who are familiar with the area.
  • It may be appropriate to have medical supplies, including oxygen, readily available. For the underwater aspect of your cleanup, PADI-sponsored professional liability insurance provides the event organizer and other responsible parties’ coverage as additional insurence. It is highly recommended that the safety coordinator carry professional liability insurance for supervising diving activities.

Be cautious of the environment

  • When doing underwater clean-ups, be patient, so your movements are not destructive to the environment. Remember that a slow clean-up which does not harm the environment is preferable to a fast clean-up that can result in damage to marine life. Avoid making contact with sea life. Maintain neutral buoyancy to avoid contact with the sea-floor. Avoid touching the ocean floor with your fins.
  • Once at the surface, make a final check for animals you may have accidentally brought in with the trash.
  • Rather than dumping your whole bag in the trash at once, examine each piece one more time for marine life. Fill a bucket with water to temporarily hold any organisms.
  • Various invertebrates such as bristleworms, which live in debris, have defense mechanisms that may cause harm to humans. When removing these creatures, handle them carefully and wear gloves whenever possible.
  • Return all marine life to the water. They are much more likely to survive if divers return them to the bottom near places where they can hide, as opposed to presenting them unprotected to predators by throwing them back.


  • Underwater collectors should only take debris that does not have growth of marine organisms on it or in it.
  • Some high priority items to remove are: oil filters and batteries (which leak poison into the water), disposable diapers, towels and other cloth items that smother marine growth, and plastics that may cause marine life entrapment.

Do not take:

  • Any debris that has become part of the underwater environment (has growth on it, algae or barnacles).
  • Bottles, cans, etc., whose openings are not encrusted closed (small fish may live there) unless you can see that there is no marine life living inside.
  • Nets, which can be dangerous for divers. Inform local marine authorities.
  • Large metal containers, which may contain hazardous material. Inform local marine authorities.
  • Paint does not dry underwater, be sure to protect yourself as well as your dive gear from exposure.

Equipment needed

Have some plastic bags in your jacket or a separate small mesh bag and use them to pack batteries, paint containers, oil filters and other small garbage encountered. Be careful to protect yourself from sharp objects. Often, one piece of trash can protect you from another, such as a piece of plastic wrapped around a paint can. Once at the surface, make a final check for animals you may have accidentally brought in with the trash.

Guidelines for collecting fishing line

  • Divers should work in two-person teams. One diver should be responsible for coiling the line and the other for untangling it.
  • Swim along the line, coiling it loosely to a stick (to enable the coil to be easily removed). This is the most efficient and safest way to collect line; causing the least amount of harm to the diver and the environment.
  • Remember that most fishing lines have hooks on the end; this is a good reason to pay attention while coiling the fishing line.
  • Collecting fishing line without coiling it isn’t safe; it leaves the diver vulnerable to entanglement.
  • Untangle line by moving the whole coil beneath or around entanglements.
  • Do not stay in one place and pull on the line to collect it. A taut line overturns rocks and coral heads, cuts coral and sponges, and drags whatever it catches on its hook.
  • When the line is all coiled, tie it so it will not uncoil in your collecting bag.
  • If a line is severely entangled, cutting it may be the only way to remove it without damaging marine life. Otherwise, it is much more efficient to coil the line.
  • Deal safely with hooks: Cut hooks off their line, and carry them embedded in wood. If you cannot transport hooks safely, leave them underwater, burying them or you may also use wire cutters to cut the hooks at the point of curvature, and carry the remaining pieces in a bottle or can.

Diving participants may want to bring the following items:

  • Dive supplies (include extra O-rings, mask straps, fin straps, and other accessories that if lost or broken could ruin a dive).
  • Mesh bags for collecting debris underwater (bags should be fairly small to avoid accumulating too much weight).
  • A piece of plastic pipe or wood to roll fishing line around.
  • Dive knife
  • Shears or wire cutters (to cut fishing line and hooks).
  • Float markers (for items too heavy for one team to move).
  • Dive flags and markers

Read more:

Report on 2003 Pucusana underwater clean-up and beach clean-up
Report on 2005 Pucusana terrestrial clean-up
Recommendations for organizing a clean-up event


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