LAGUNA BEACH : Divers Go Below to Clean Up Playground

A golden forest of kelp grows just a few yards off the shore of Woods Cove, a favorite spot for Orange County divers. But often, divers find the beauty of the colorful water life marred by beer cans and plastic bags chucked between the kelp and reef.

On Sunday, about 40 water life enthusiasts fanned out to five diving spots in Laguna Beach for the second annual Stop Littering Our Beaches and Bays (SLOBB) dive. For three hours, divers gave up their scuba gear and instead filled garbage bags with litter found along the beaches and in shallow waters.

"When you find beer cans sitting along the reef, you wonder how can people be so negligent to the innocent creatures," said Yvonne Estrada of Manhattan Beach, who drove one hour to Orange County to help in the cleanup.

Despite waves that often reached 5 feet and higher and low visibility below surface because of the churned sand, several divers towed mesh bags into the water to pick and clean. Using their hands, they scraped the rocks for any litter. When they picked up trash, they carefully examined the inside to make sure there were no sea animals in it. For those who took to the waters, the heavy surf did much of the work for them by carrying some of the litter to the shore.

Others, who stayed dry, swept the sands with rakes and shovels. Several minutes after the cleanup began at 8 a.m., several bags of aluminum soda and beer cans, plastic bottles, and wet paper were collected on shore.

Laguna Beach is one of the most popular diving spots in Southern California, said Randy Buck, manager of the South Laguna-based Adventures in Diving store, which sponsored the cleanup. Divers can find bright, tangerine-colored algae, green-spotted kelp bass and golden fish just a hundred yards from the beach.

From Los Angeles to San Diego, scuba-divers drive to Orange County beaches to take in many of the underwater sights that are just beginning to become polluted by negligent beach-goers, Buck said. But too often, the litter ends up on the ocean floor amid the rocky reef and the kelp forests, he added.

In many of the spots where seals swim side by side with humans, divers have found plastic soda can rings and deflated balloons that could choke sea animals.

Even the smallest piece of litter can ruin the ocean floor for divers and the animals who live in the water, said Estrada, who was just certified in scuba diving in February.

"Diving is so peaceful," Estrada said. "But when you find cans and glass bottles out in the water, it is disturbing because you know that it goes against nature."

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