Scuba Dive & Arise with Purpose

travel2change visits Papua New Guinea and goes deep to save the seas with the help of new friends (by Dusty Loffarelli)


preparing to dive with a purpose in the waters of Rapopo & Rabaul, island of East New Britain, in Papua New Guinea

Picture this

While there is no scarcity of brilliant coral in the Coral Sea, it is scary how much rubbish pollutes its reefs from surrounding waterways of Papua New Guinea.  As PNG ascends as a tourist haven for tribal culture and beachy splendors, it has long been descended upon by world class divers.  Arising from the depths of over-touristed reefs elsewhere, comes a need to save them, especially here. Two people who recognize this are David Stein and Gavin Cathcart.

empty shells… some belong, some do not

Sense of place

Papua New Guinea is made up of many isles. In the middle of the cluster is prominent New Britain Island.  At its norther tip is Kokopo which was smothered by a volcanic eruption in 1994. Today it is a dive mecca. The nearby town of Rabaul swelled in population to six times its size adopting its popular neighbor while saving everyone from earthquake and ash.

unleashing one of many loads from the ocean floor

Enter the accelerators

David Stein is a well-respected long-time local businessman who leads the area’s chamber of commerce. Gavin Cathcart is a more recent transplant who owns and operates Rabaul-Kokopo Dive.  When David introduced a monthly volunteer cleanup program, Gavin took the idea to new depths.

divers down, not far from shore, we begin to find many strange things beneath the sea

Situation on fire

PNG has the unfortunate habit of burning its rubbish.  Trash piles up in open areas, gets blown around, and ends up in all the wrong places.  When David set aside a day each month asking businesses to encourage staff to clean up public areas near their stores, he thought it would be a tough sell.

some rubbish recovered from the reef was too big to carry in the water mesh bags

Call to action

About a year ago, on the morning of the first East New Britain Community Clean-Up Day, David joined a small group of entrepreneurs to get the ball rolling. Later that morning he went to other parts of town and was surprised to see how many people were out collecting debris, especially along the beaches.  Numbers of participants grew into the hundreds with increasing enthusiasm that attracted national media.

a mixture of many… even an umbrella for stormy underwater weather days?

Splashing out

Recently while exploring voluntourism in PNG, I met Poreni Umau, writer for the Papua New Guinea Post Courier. We joined Gavin for a very special cleanup inspired by David to coincide with World Environment Day. Our mission: scuba dive & arise with purpose.

as the collection of sea debris got larger, the objects we found got bigger too

Ground zero

Together with Gavin’s staff, we armed ourselves with dive knives and cleaned below the shoreline of Kokopo. Cutting ropes and fishing line strangling the reef, we lifted an array of garbage littering the ocean floor. It was an underwater festival of who can catch the strangest waste.  For me it was the laptop found at 13 meters.  I imagined it may have been dropped by a brave soul who finally let go of the digital world, to embrace nature in all its spender, which PNG is ripe to offer.

the dive knife was key to unleashing a strangle of lines chocking the habit of sea life; yet in neutral buoyancy it was a struggle to tug, pull, and cut at the same time

Bubbled up

Our efforts collected about 32 kilos of waste found in depths up to 20 meters of water

from left to right: PNG Post Courier Journalist: Poreni Umau; Dive-Master: Andrew; volunteer: dusty; boat-captain: Michael; and Rabaul-Kokopo Dive Shop Owner: Gavin Cathcart holding the laptop computer found underwater after years of sleep-mode. see short video below



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1 comment

  1. shirley

    Rabaul is at the tip of East New Britain PNG which last experienced a volcanic eruption; Kokopo’s current town also includes the “old Rabaul”

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