By Founder and President Kurt Lieber
With the beginning of lobster hunting season rapidly approaching, we decided to take a break from our normal dive routine and head out to a spot along the coast that will soon be inundated with hundreds of legally set commercial lobster traps: The border between Santa Monica Bay and Palos Verdes.
Lobster Trap Proliferation
The season begins on October 7th this year, and the traps are allowed to be in the water a week before that date. The traps just can’t have any bait in them until the 7th. This is what the area will look like on that day…
Knowing that so many traps are there every year, and that there are a lot of boats that travel right through the maze, we decided to go for a couple of dives there to see if we could find any abandoned traps and get them out of the water.
The maze of traps, with lines floating to the service, create a gauntlet that migrating whales must try to pass through.
A small crew of divers and deckhands boarded our vessel Bob Barker’s LegaSea on Sunday, September 19th. We pushed off around 9:30 and headed 10 miles north along the Palos Verdes coast. It was a beautiful day, flat seas, with partly cloudy skies and not a whiff of smoke from all the wildfires that have darkened our skies for weeks now.
On our way out we saw several small pods of dolphins chasing big schools of sardines, with cormorants and pelicans taking advantage by diving for the fish that came too close to the surface. It was heartening to see so many different life forms after being confined to our houses and apartments for so long. Nature continues to thrive! We didn’t get close enough to take any pictures because we were on a mission.
Diving in an Underwater Forest
We arrived at the site around 10:30, dropped the anchor in 45 feet of water, and soon thereafter veteran ODA volunteer divers Kim Cardenas, Walter Marti, and Geoff Walsh were jumping into the water. They took underwater (UW) scooters to help propel them through the water.
This site is a prime dive site due to the fact that it contains a HUGE kelp forest. Kelp are large brown algae seaweeds and there are about 30 different kinds.
Where there is kelp you can be assured there are going to be lots of critters hanging out. Some use the kelp to hide from predators, while others lay their eggs on the kelp’s leave-life structures known as “blades”, and yet others like abalone and urchins feed on the kelp itself. Talk about a widely used and much-needed organism!
From the boat, underwater visibility looked great, at around 20-25 feet. Turns out it wasn’t that nice on the bottom. The kelp forest was so thick that the light hardly penetrated, and it was dark for the divers. Walter had his camera with him and took some nice images of the kelp bed.
After 30 minutes, Walter came to the surface and swam over to the boat. He said the kelp was so thick that he had to stop every few minutes to clear out all the kelp fronds that were getting clogged up in the propeller of the scooter. He didn’t make it very far from the boat when he called it quits.
Dive Safety and Next Steps
About 30 minutes later, Kim and Geoff surfaced 200 yards from the boat and swam back to us… They didn’t find anything to remove and had a hard time keeping track of each other because of the density of the kelp. Dang…
We talked about what we wanted to do for the next dive while we nibbled on some snacks. But while we were sitting there a lot of slow rolling waves were rocking the boat sideways and a few of us were getting seasick. We decided to call off the second dive and head home.
Not a very productive day for us, but the vital first step of our work always involves locating the abandoned fishing equipment. Thankfully, we find ghost gear to remove on over 80% of our dives. On this outing, despite our disappointment, our dedicated crew had an always-valuable dive exercise and got a bonus of seeing some dolphins. Another worthwhile result was the excellent kelp footage Walter shot that we’ll use for our video catalog.
In the coming days, we’ll continue our 7-Mile Wall Crawl (lobster-trap removal project) by motoring out to the Los Angeles Harbor breakwall one more time before things change with the beginning of lobster season. You see, when the lobster season begins, we cannot remove legally laid traps, so we’ll be shifting efforts. I’ll meet with Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary officials to see how we can help clean their protected waters which too often see illegal fishing. We’ll also be stepping up efforts in our Trap Trackers program—identifying, recording, and reporting lobster trap locations to the government to validate our recommendation to have traps set farther apart, and at the same time noting their location for possible removal by ODA after the season ends if the trap is abandoned.
ODA-California and ODA-Hawai’i are committed to cleaning our oceans through small-crew (Covid-safe) boat outings; beach, harbor, and channel cleanups; scientific studies; and educational outreach! There’s much work to be done to achieve a debris-free sea and we appreciate you partnering with us to ensure it happens. Check out our chapter’s pages: California and Hawai’i