Dive Against Debris: Employing 25,600 scuba divers to collect data


A global citizen science program that trains scuba divers to conduct underwater surveys, generating quantitative data on the debris they see.

In 2011, the team at Project AWARE launched the Dive Against Debris program with the objective of better documenting the amount of marine debris found in the world’s oceans. This global citizen science program trains volunteer scuba divers from across the globe to conduct underwater surveys, generating quantitative data on the debris they see. After cleaning this data for quality assurance, it is then published on their interactive Dive Against Debris Map. This data and visualization informs the team’s advocacy work, ultimately seeking to generate changes in policy.

The impact of marine debris is devastating, killing marine life and changing their habitats and ecosystems. Animals are extremely vulnerable to ingestion or entanglement which leads to death, as they are unable to distinguish between what is trash and what is not.

Beyond this, as microscopic pieces of plastic enter the food chain, most seafood ingested by humans also likely contains marine debris.

Project AWARE is a growing movement of scuba divers protecting the ocean, with a long history of working on the marine debris issue. Through its work, the Project AWARE team found that there was a significant lack of data available regarding underwater marine debris.

To remedy this, the Dive Against Debris program was launched in 2011. The programs seeks to collect and visualise data generated by their volunteers, then use this data to influence policy changes and raise social awareness around the world. This data collection is unique in that it focuses exclusively on yielding data about the types and quantities of marine debris items found beneath in the ocean, an issue Hannah Pragnell-Raasch, a Program Specialist with Project AWARE, told us “has previously been disregarded as out of sight, out of mind, as the everyday person is not exposed to the harmful impacts.”

To date, Dive Against Debris surveys have been conducted in over 50 countries, with the top reporting countries being the United States, Thailand and Greece. As more divers get involved with Dive Against Debris, Project AWARE continues to bring visibility to the problem of marine debris and helps to identify target areas for waste prevention efforts.


Data and the map

Since 2011, divers have conducted 1772 surveys, reporting and removing 542,340 pieces of debris. The majority of this is plastic, with 344,796 pieces collected. The weight of these items combined is equal to that of over 3000 people. The items themselves are very diverse, “from the weird and whacky items like a pogo stick or set of false teeth to the usual suspects – plastic bags, drinks bottles and aluminum cans”. As Pragnell-Raasch said in her interview, “with 150 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic conservatively estimated to make its way into the ocean by 2025, it sadly comes as no surprise that plastic items are consistently the top items reported – accounting for almost 70% of all debris items reported to date.”

In order to better visualize and communicate their data and message, the Project AWARE team designed the interactive Dive Against Debris Map. The map allows the user to explore the data in an interactive way and discover the types and amounts of debris scuba divers around the world have removed and reported since 2011.

The data and scuba divers

While there have been over 25,600 divers in more than 1,500 Dive Against Debris surveys across the globe, there is more to be done. Project AWARE hope that more divers will get involved and “put their scuba skills to good use”.10 But the group of citizens who can contribute to this effort is somewhat limited: only divers have the skills required to collect this data.

Anyone can take part in a Dive Against Debris survey, as long as they are a certified diver. As described in their “Action Zone”, scuba divers can either “join” or “create” an action. To further support the program, Project AWARE launched the Dive Against Debris Distinctive Specialty, a course of divers, which “aims to equip students (scuba divers) with the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct their own Dive Against Debris Surveys.”

Before the data appears on the interactive Dive Against Debris Map, it goes through a quality review in order to ensure data integrity. The survey leader at Project AWARE corrects any data inconsistencies. Then, as the focus is exclusively on what is found underwater, all land data is removed. Project AWARE Aware aims to create “an accurate perspective about underwater marine debris, that policy-makers simply cannot ignore”.

Data for policy change

The ultimate objective of collecting this data is to change the way the marine debris issue is addressed around the globe. In order to address this, the Project AWARE team believes in policy changes–including passing and then enforcing stronger regulations, at local, national and international levels. They are actively seeking out opportunities to present their findings to policymakers to improve waste management, presenting at international conferences, speaking directly with governments and working with alliance partners.

Explore the Dive Against Debris project here.

This article was originally published by DataShift, republished here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License. Read the original article here.