From Passion to Activism: “Battery Removal Project”
I’m not a vacation diver. Of my ~6000 dives, all but about 2 dozen have been undertaken in the chilly waters of my backyard, the Emerald Sea. Born in the golden age of television, my childhood hero’s were Wonder Woman and Jaques Cousteau. Wonder Woman first only, because of that compilation of comics from Odegard Undergraduate Library (the only children’s book there?). She inspired a little girl, encouraged her to believe that women could be superhero’s too (not just a sidekick).
I feel incredibly lucky with regards to the era I learned to dive in. Gear had become very reliable, not a limiting factor, and the technology with regards to mixed gasses and sport diving was moving forward at an accelerated pace.
That seed flourished and grew, nurtured by saltwater, seaweed and shipwrecks! I was fascinated and fixated, I would do anything to dive them. “Sell my soul?” I’d have barely asked how much if it got me on the hull of a wreck. It turns out the cost of my soul was a mere $400 and a pipe-dream.
Adventure Diving Inc, the first technical diving facility, the first shop to specialize in extended range diving and fill trimix was born. They say parenthood changes your life (in this case, a business was my baby), the year was 1994 and my life would never be the same.
This passion, what lies beneath, has been ongoing for about 22 years. In the early 90’s we video’d shipwrecks, documenting them for the future generations. I thought almost nothing of it. Being so young, to me it was like “they had always been there, and they would always be there”. A constant in a sea of change. How wrong I was. Indeed, diving was constant, no matter what else was going on in my life, there would always be diving at some level. But the wrecks changed, the waters changed, I changed.
Although there were already many female tech divers on the east coast but in 1992, I was the only one in the northwest. I ended up with a body dysmorphia issue, I thought it was as big and badass as all the boys. I'd see team pictures of us and think "hey, who's that little shrimp!" not immediately remembering how much smaller i was than the men. I imagine you have also experienced a bit of this :)
It is that documentation, that love for sharing my underwater ‘vision’ so to speak that lead me down a path that changed from passion to activism. I realized that no matter how many times I shot video of a storm outfall or a pile of trash, it may cause a spike in outrage, discussion and awareness, but I was not seeing a change. The trash was still there, I was still shooting it...
Looking back, I have videos of batteries dating back a decade, I'd even comment on them, but I didn't "notice" them. I didn't think there was anything I could do.
Mid 2011, I was yet again documenting octopus dens with nests in them and I saw something that somehow had escaped me before. Right there, right next to these dens full of hundreds of thousands of eggs, were discarded batteries leaching Lead, heavy metals, toxins.
Perhaps it was that I always looked left instead of right. Perhaps someone moved it into plain view. Perhaps the currents had simply uncovered it, gently lifting the underwater flora enough to bring it into focus. Or perhaps it was a sign of the change that had occurred in me. That exact moment I became an activist as opposed to just an observer.
Once seen, some things can never be forgotten. That battery became an obsession. I asked people what I could do, but no one really had any answer.
Did I need special training? Special equipment? Most simply shrugged their shoulders and said something along the lines of “ya, it would be nice if they were not there”. I finally emailed a diving acquaintance who is a water quality scientist.
I figured if anyone would know, he would. His answer was “they are old, they don’t have acid in them. Just pull them out, be careful to wear gloves when you handle them on the surface. Use tupperware bin for transport so they don’t trash your car. They can be pretty stinky” No special training? “Nope”. In other words, “Just do it!”
And so we did. I did not expect there to be so many. I figured the two by the nests, and then there was the one at 60 or 70’... My dive buddy had also noted one in 25-30’. So I guestimated on the outside we’d find about 6.
Last weekend we found and removed battery #20. They have ranged in size from 40lbs all the way up to 160lbs. We use lift bags and milk crates, simple materials that can be found almost anywhere. I decided to do that as opposed to fancy expensive stuff. I really wanted to make it something that ANY team of divers can do ANYWHERE. I wanted to send a message “If I can do it, anyone can!
My dream is to bring more public awareness to the fact that diving is not just recreation, we are not just cruising through our underwater parks on a sight seeing trip, but can be stewards who care very deeply about the other world that we visit. I want to inspire divers worldwide to take responsibility for the precious gift we all share. The future of our oceans is in our hands.
My dream is to help inspire the next generation of divers to take up fins, regulators cameras and mesh bags and become an army of hope for the ocean.
Written by Laura James, Seattle.