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