WET & WILD : Environmentalists Take Dive to Help Clean Up Avalon Bay

David Haldane is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff

Lots of interesting things have been hauled up from the depths of Avalon Bay.

There have been kitchen sinks, toilets, radios, sunglasses, tools, fishing poles, video cameras, boomboxes and the underwear of both sexes.

One woman found a diamond bracelet worth several hundred dollars, which, after unsuccessfully attempting to locate the owner, she got to keep. Another diver gleaned an eight-track tape of Johnny Mathis. And yet another retrieved a used condom from the sandy bottom.

All told, experts say, about 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of trash come up from these crystalline waters one day each year, largely due to the efforts of hundreds of visiting divers.


That day comes around Saturday as the expected swarm of amateur underwater environmentalists once again prepares to converge on Catalina Island for the annual underwater bay cleanup.

“It’s a way for divers to give back to the sport that they love,” says Randy Brannock, co-owner of Catalina Diver’s Supply, the Avalon dive shop that organizes the event.

“This is a way to keep the environment clean of debris and pick up trash that’s been contributed by Homo sapiens.”

It’s also the only day of the year on which diving is permitted in Avalon Bay.

The annual underwater cleanup began 14 years ago as a low-key attempt by a handful of local divers to help keep the bay clean.

Gradually the event gained in popularity, Brannock said, until this weekend, when he expects as many as 350 certified scuba divers--almost all from the mainland--to pay $18 apiece for the privilege of making two dives from the beach (with free air fills) to depths of 50 feet between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

“Basically, it’s just a bunch of crazy people coming over here to have a good time and help clean up our bay too,” Brannock said. “They pay their own way, and they make a donation. We can’t say enough good about them.”


All major cruise lines, which generally transport people to Catalina for $25 to $35 for a round trip, will be offering Saturday discounts to cleanup participants. And those wishing to spend the weekend will also find discounts at many local hotels. (For more information about this and the dive, call (310) 510-0330.)

Half of the proceeds from the underwater cleanup--which last year raised about $1,200 despite a major storm--will be donated to Catalina Conservancy Divers, an ecology-oriented dive club dedicated to helping conserve the marine environment through abalone restoration, kelp-forest monitoring and research diving.

The rest of the money will go to the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber, a recompression chamber operated by USC at the island’s Wrigley Marine Lab, which has saved many a careless diver from death by the bends.

But the event won’t be just work, work, work.

To make things interesting, the organizers will give away diving gear as door prizes and raffle off several donated Catalina vacation packages.

And to show their appreciation for the effort, sponsors will award participants with symbolic pine plaques in the shape of trash cans.

“We pretty much make them up as we go,” Brannock said. “The judges are the dive operators, and we accept bribes.”


Among last year’s favorites: an award for the most valuable catch, taken home by the finder of the diamond bracelet; one for the most worthless find, earned by the man who picked up the Mathis tape, and an award for social conscience went to the condom retriever.

The golden flipper award for the day’s outstanding performance was taken by a buddy team that freed a horn shark tangled in fishing line.

And the Ken Curtis BS Award, given, according to Brannock, to “whoever can tell the greatest story about their underwater adventure during the cleanup” went to the diver who announced that he had found Noah’s ark.

The award--consisting of a plaque with a buffalo chip spray-painted on it--is named after Ken Curtis, a local dive operator.

“He’s the one who gave us the idea when he brought up Elvis Presley’s sweat shirt,” Brannock recalled.

“He said that he’d just certified Elvis.”