When the sight of plastic bags, bottles and other debris littering the seabed becomes too much, there’s just one thing to do: don your diving suit, strap on an air tank and fish out the stuff yourself.
That is the solution adopted by Oceanium, an association of amateur divers in the West African state of Senegal.
In a few hours last month, divers removed hundreds of kilos (pounds) of plastic rubbish in the waters around the island of Goree off the capital Dakar — a former hub in the African slave trade and today the jewel in Senegal’s tourism crown.
In real terms, their cleanup was Sisyphean: they removed a molehill in a mountain of plastic that is relentlessly growing.
But it provided temporary relief for local biodiversity — and gave a push for environmentalism in a country where green issues trail far behind the drive to ease poverty.
“We’re here to clean up,” exclaimed Ndeye Selbe Diouf, a young woman who took up diving two years ago and said she had lost count of fish she has seen trapped in bottles near the shore.
Oceanium’s diving director, Rodwan El Ali, 36, said the problem of plastic rubbish in Senegal was acute.
“People go to the beach and drink and party, and if there are no rubbish bins, they leave it on the beach and it’s swept into the sea with the tide,” he said.
Ali, a member of the ethnic Lebanese community that has been in Senegal for generations, took over Oceanium with his sister after its founding by their father, Haidar, a former environment minister.
“When we see fishing nets tangled around shipwrecks or plastic littering the sea bottom, we organise a cleanup,” he said.
Their first operation took place in 2017 and is moving towards a monthly cleanup dive — even weekly, if funding becomes available.