Trigger Warning: Plastic

As a scuba diver, I’ve gotten to see the devastating effects of plastic first hand. On a dive in Mexico I passed a hawksbill turtle with a plastic bag wrapped around it’s mouth. I tried to get close but the turtles in that area don’t usually approach divers and although it wasn’t too comfortable with me, it seemed to slow down as I neared. When I attempted to put my hand out to free the plastic the turtle panicked and swam away. I was crushed. Unable to breathe at the surface due to the bag, I wasn’t sure how long he’d make it. Turtles can only hold their breath a few hours depending on the level of activity but he had a mission in front of him and a limited amount of time to remove the bag.

This isn’t my only story about plastic in our oceans.

I’ve been unable to surface in normally clear water certain days because as I approach the surface after a dive you can see that it’s lined with floating debris, plastic and other rubbish. It looks like a gruesome film layering the surface of the water. You can see the gasoline sparkling rainbows as you look up and watch your bubbles break apart when they hit the surface.

I cut a fishing net in Indonesia and almost got hit in the head by a weight belt as the the boat captain realized and tried to stop me. My student looked on in horror. I realized in hindsight I shouldn’t meddle in certain things, I know it’s their way of life, but I have a hard time with the way we treat our oceans. How ignorant we become. How things like dynamite fishing are even a thing.

In 2012 I joined hundreds of divers as we set the Guinness Book of World Records for pulling out the most debris from our oceans in one day. It was the biggest organized event they’ve ever had. In Phuket specifically 650 divers, including myself, pulled out 15 tons of rubbish. We were proud of ourselves- we did something great! But I was so sad that something like that was necessary. If we took out 15 tons in one day, imagine how much there is! And setting a world record for the most rubbish collected at a time seemed like something I didn’t want to be competing for.

Once, I watched a seahorse swaying along the bottom with tinfoil sachets that had been thrown into the ocean- bobbing back and forth with the waves and seahorse in unison. It was like looking at one of the cutest, most beautiful tiny things in the world, next to something that was slowly integrating in where it didn’t belong, where it never belonged. The plastic can’t go anywhere except back into the environment as a microplastic, this is now our cycle… That’s when I realized where we were going if we didn’t stop, what our world would look like… and it scared the shit out of me!

I jumped first during season opener with my group of divers on a liveaboard in the Similan Islands in Thailand one year. We had arrived at Richeleu Rock, the most famous dive site in Thailand, to find that it had been covered with a fishing net. The whole thing! We spent 2 dives cutting away the invisible fishing line with plastic bottles attached as surface markers and fishing hooks scattered throughout the lines underwater. This area was a “protected marine park” but it closes 7 months a year and when it’s closed the fisherman know there is no one out there patrolling, and they don’t care.

I broke apart a fish cage with my hands and dive knife on a familiar dive site in Thailand once to free the 8-10 fish that were trapped inside. I know it was small and they probably just wanted to feed their family but something happens to me and I become protective of the water I spend so much time in. I feel the need to speak for it. But first I have to educate myself about the seafood industry, fishing practices, local customs and ways of life, the environmental effects and other aspects of what I’m doing. Sometimes our actions come from a good place but we might have misguided intentions.

I’ve used a shovel to pick up and throw away huge blankets of oil that had covered the beach in the morning, melting in the hot sun and getting harder to move by the minute. I’ve joined environmental groups while I traveled, organized beach clean ups through my dive shop, and been a part of more Debris related activities than I’d like because unfortunately as a diver we get to see it daily. It makes us sad to watch dive sites disappear and change so greatly within a few years. Before it used to take a lifetime to notice these differences, now they’re happening in a matter of years.

Regardless, I’m not on a pedestal but something I will get hot and bothered about is plastic! I’ve walked down beaches in some of the most beautiful places in the world (YES EVEN IN THE US)  and seen them littered with plastic lighters, chip bags, plastic straws, sachets, styrofoam and so many other pieces of microplastics you wouldn’t believe your eyes! I don’t even know if you believe me, you probably think I’ve seen this once or twice, here and there; I’m here to tell you I have seen this everywhere, in all different parts of the world! Although it’s more certainly on display in third world countries, it still exists in the United States, we’ve just gotten better at “recycling” it and stashing it out of the way. We don’t have to look at it and be reminded of the pounds of plastic we throw out in the trash every day, it isn’t our problem. Out of sight out of mind!

Although somehow, if someone dumped that rubbish right out in our yards every day, we might start realizing how much unnecessary plastic and packaging we consume. I’m not saying you need to go out and be a damn warrior but start somewhere! At least become AWARE of the amount of plastic you use and if there’s a better way. Bring a reusable bag, avoid products with palm oil, tell the waiter you don’t need a straw, ANYTHING will help!

Oh, and please don’t get me started on single use plastic because I don’t know how we can even justify using a piece of plastic once and throwing it away! Look, no one is perfect. But if we all just did a little bit better, it would make such a huge difference! I worry constantly about the future of our oceans, about how to teach the next generation to be better than we are, to create products with less environmental impact, I worry about how to reduce my carbon footprint. But I also have certain habits that contribute to the consumption of plastic and I recognize that none of us are perfect! I think it’s necessary to look at our lives and see the ways we could improve. Not only how we can improve by purchasing less and being aware of different kinds of plastic, but on how we educate our children and the ways in which we normalize plastic’s use.

I’d like to be able to continue sharing my passion for diving for years to come. If our ocean’s continue at this rate I might not have fish or coral left to show people. Our favorite sites that used to be considered the most beautiful dives in the world will be covered in plastic fishing nets and rubbish littering the surface and the bottom! Divers are natural ambassadors for the underwater environment because they get to see the effects first hand and share what they see with others. You get to see all my beautiful dive photos and travel photos, I don’t show you the way that I’ve adjusted the camera frame to exclude a bit of rubbish or the way the surface of the water shines as the trash dances up and down in the sun. I don’t share the ways in which we’ve had to educate our boat crew to not flick their cigarettes in the water or throw their rubbish overboard.

I’ve realized that I wanted to share all of this because I’m in a position to do it. This isn’t your usual inspiring post because sometimes it’s important to talk about the hard stuff. It’s important we stop pretending like these things aren’t problems because they don’t affect us “enough”. I think it’s time we stop making up excuses.

 

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The Caribbean’s Hidden Gem

Imagine waking up on a tiny island where there are no cars or scooters at all, only foot paths with the occasional bicycle. Delivery produce only arrives from the larger island once a week and sends the small ferry dock into a frenzy with people from all over the island setting up stands and selling the week’s supply of food. Larger items need to be transported by push cart through the jungle pathways weaving a half an hour to the opposite end, sometimes taking as many as 6 men to complete the job. Electricity shuts off daily from 6 AM to 1 PM to allow the sun to recharge the generators for the day. When the fans stop humming in the morning it pushes everyone outside to begin their day. I don’t think there is any air conditioning on the island so the fan is what allows you to sleep. The first thing you smell every morning is fresh baked coconut bread flavored with ginger or cheddar and the locals speak a mixture of Spanish, English and Creole. Sometimes you’re unsure which one is more prevalent. The people are friendly and the pace of life is slow, untouched from the rush of the rest of the world.

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Cave Diving in the Yucatan

I finally finished my full cave diving course with IANTD (The International Association of Nitrox and Technical Diving). Cave diving is part of the reason I came to Mexico a year ago and it took me awhile, and a bit of money, to finish this course. It is my first step into technical diving and now means that I can guide the caverns here as a guide to recreational scuba divers. What I do already, as a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, allows me to teach all levels of recreational scuba diving from Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, Divemaster, Assistant Instructor, Specialities and training new PADI Instructors under a Course Director. As much as I love working as a PADI Instructor, cave diving was something I did for me. I started diving when I was 12 years old and have somewhere around 3,500 dives. I’ve always wanted to cave dive and have seen technical diving as a new challenge. It was a way to fall in love with diving all over again.

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cave diving, sky diving, and diving in head first.

I haven’t written in a few months. I’ve had lots of moments I wanted to share with you and put to words for my own sanity, but I’ve been too busy stumbling around this town called Playa del Carmen, trying to find my feet again. I spent the first few months getting into the groove of things and partying way too much, as you do when you first move somewhere new and feel as though you’re still on holiday. I made some mistakes, made some good friends, and eventually made my own way.

Being reconnected with diving the last few months has absolutely swept me off my feet again and put me over the moon… or should I say “under the ocean”. After spending nearly 2 years recovering from 2 separate knee surgeries and almost losing my sense of self amongst my own anguish and inability to do the things I love, I stumbled lost into Playa (as the locals call it) and tripped and fell back into the Lauryn that I’d almost lost touch with completely. Last February’s silent meditation retreat put me back on track in a way I hadn’t felt in over a year, but the return back to Minnesota for another knee surgery and another summer without following my passion made me feel angry at the universe and my own bad luck.

I thought that I wasn’t, and it really took me until recently to realize how angry I had/have been and that I’m not entirely sure why I’m still carrying all of this negative energy around. But I am. Here I am. Exhale. So a week ago after another spell of bad luck I decided that there was something inside of me that was hurting. There is something that I haven’t resolved within myself, some anger, and my continuous distraction keeps being manifested in my own reality. I’m essentially putting this energy out into the universe and the universe is responding with the very frequency that I’m sending. Bad things happen, thus is life, but I am acting out in various ways because I’m not dealing with something.

I am getting closer to realizing the answer through lots of meditation, music, non-distraction, honest conversations with people that care about me, and self love. I don’t need to find out what it is right now, but I do need to listen to myself more. How did I not realize this? How have I not connected my behaviors from the last year to more than trivial mishaps? How have I not taken responsibility for my actions? I don’t know why it took me so long but I do know with intense clarity that lots of things are about to change for me, and in a BIG way. I don’t know if this change is spiritual or physical, my job, my location… but I do know that I am aware of this negative energy now because I am able to receive the information and the lesson.

Playa has definitely been a trip and I’m so glad that my journey led me here. I’m beginning to see what my reason for being here now is and with that I plan on taking the next step with just as much faith in the process. Lots of firsts, but definitely not lasts.

The last 4 months have been lots of silly stumbles, miscommunications and learning experiences. I started my cave course a month ago which has made me fall in love with diving all over again, and I will be finishing my full cave portion with IANTD (International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers) at the end of the month when work slows down. These Cenotes and cave systems here in Mexico are unlike anything in the world. I am so blessed to be challenged in this type of environment; it’s breathtaking. I have also decided I’m going to bite the bullet and take advantage of the new sky diving school that opened here in Playa, called SkyDiveMex. I did my first tandem jump a few years ago in Hawaii and have never felt such a rush of adrenaline in my life! I literally landed and started crying because I was so happy. I knew then and there that I wanted to jump solo. I’ve always loved heights and the rush of skydiving felt like nothing before. I already know I’m a mermaid, but I may just be a bird as well! Here’s to new adventures. Life looks like it’ll find me sailing around the Caribbean this summer so keep your eyes peeled for more rambling mermaid escapades.