Put some fun in your good deed this coming weekend!
The small sign beside the highway told passing motorists that the stretch of road they were travelling on had been ‘adopted’ by a local scout troop. A few hundred metres further, there were a handful of youngsters wearing work-gloves and armed with various tools like rakes and shovels picking up litter and throwing it into garbage bags ready to be carted off to the dump. The synchronicity of the situation struck me immediately. I was on route to a Saturday morning DITO event organized by a buddy and aimed at cleaning up the mess left by “picnickers” at one of our favorite local dive sites. I pulled over immediately.
DITO – in case you did not already know – is the acronym for Dive-In, Trash Out – one of the nicest things to happen in our local dive community. I have no idea how DITO got started or where the movement first appeared, but I have noticed more and more DITO event invites being circulated during the past two or three years. Either there is more trash being dropped in and around dive sites (the pessimistic, glass half-empty outlook) or, as divers, we are getting more serious about the stewardship of the places we love to visit and dive in (my optimistic, glass is filling nicely viewpoint).
How to Get Started
Like it or not, there is a smattering of the untidy urchin in many of us, and litter has become a fact of life in our streets and our parks and public spaces. My guess is that the anthropologists out there could determine a lot about our society with no other evidence than the discarded fast-food packages, coffee cups, aluminum cans and other detritus that dots the landscape. However, if you feel that stuff belongs in a garbage can rather than on the grass and that it is time to beautify the local landscape at your favorite dive site, here are some pointers to organizing your very own DITO event.
Get help from your mates. Even the smallest DITO event can be a challenge for a single-handed organizer. Just like diving, you need a buddy… or two at least.
Agree on a site and build a plan that fits that site. Most successful DITO events tackle the area around entry and exit points, and many strive to clean up the underwater site too. Choose what you want to do and work on the task with two teams: surface and underwater, if that’s what fits.
Your next step is to get permission. It may be an obvious no-brainer to you and me that it is a great idea to plan a clean-up of the riverbank, shoreline, green space or parking lot that borders a dive spot. Just make sure that the local landowner appreciates the idea too, and if the approach pathway crosses land owned by a different person or entity, include them in your letter – yep, a letter – asking for permission to do an area cleaning.
Many dive sites are privately owned and some belong to local municipalities and authorities. Put down what you intend to do in writing and fire off a copy to the appropriate address. Keep a file and assume nothing until you have the OK in writing… and on official-looking notepaper.
Now you need sponsors. Many businesses will sponsor area clean-ups, and one of the large donut and coffee franchises in my part of the country is great at supplying participants in clean-ups with a box of treats and a big “jug” of coffee: FREE.
Never be afraid to approach local companies to ask if they can help out. Cleaning up the environment is a smart PR move for any business from an auto shop to the local credit union or community bank. At a minimum ask for wall space for promotional posters (hand-made or professionally done by a sponsoring quick print company). Our local hardware store supplied thick work gloves, eye protection and ultra strong trash bags at their cost for the cleanup crew at a nearby riverbank.
Arrange transportation for the crew, gear and for the trash to be taken out. Participants with pickup trucks should be welcomed!
What to Be Mindful Of
Even the smallest pile of garbage can be a breeding ground for pathogens and other nasty surprises, so NEVER work with unprotected hands and always have a disinfectant and hand-sanitizer available. If possible, rake garbage together and use a garden fork or spade to put it into bags.
Garbage with the potential to harbor sharp edges and points (old wood with nails in it for example) are best dumped into hard plastic or metal trash cans.
Discarded trash in the water can present risks too. Beware of sharp edges and entanglement hazards. Handle carefully and use goody bags to get collected trash to the surface.
To help manage the risks associated with any underwater “work” set a policy from the start regarding work teams (buddy pairs is an absolute minimum) and have crews work a grid whenever possible (marked out with lines and floats).
Heavy objects, such as household appliances (yes, we have moved more than one fridge in the past), can be floated using liftbags properly rigged and inflated with a stage bottle specially rigged for the job! However, before attempting this, some outside consultation may be in order. (Speak to someone who has experience or better yet teaches water salvage).
Jobs are easier when the work is shared and more enjoyable when the work is turned into fun. Jobs stay fun when they have a well defined start and ending point. This brings up the most important warning of all: Do not attempt to do more than is comfortable to complete in a couple of hours. If a site is going to take more effort than two or three hours, has trash above AND below water, then consider tackling it in several stages.
Who to Invite
The simple answer is everyone. Create an event on your store or club’s Facebook page. Send the word out in your club or store’s newsletter. Call up the local newspaper and let them know about it. Most of all, get a solid commitment from at least twice as many people as you think the task is going to require.
Of course, you may be planning a job that you could tackle on your own on a Saturday afternoon, in which case, take a friend along for company, and you’re halfway there.
How to Say Thank You
I’ve always found the perfect end to a DITO event is ice cream, but your buddies may prefer something different. However, everyone appreciates a proper thank you. Follow up your DITO event with an official “thank you.” It does not have to be the lead story on your local TV station. It can be something as simple as an email or an article in the next club newsletter.
When I pulled over to show my thanks to the scout troop cleaning up the highway on my way to our DITO event, I handed them the box of treats I was taking for our cleanup crew. After all, I could replace them in the next town, and it was worth it to see the smiles on their faces when I pulled out a box with that familiar logo on it.
Organizing a DITO event is one of the most satisfying and effective things you can do to improve the quality of local diving in your area. It might be just you and a couple of buddies showing up with your dive gear and cleaning up a couple of pop cans, or it could be something that took two months to orchestrate. The scale is immaterial: It’s the thought that counts.