A cash register, bicycles, a safe, myriads of plastic bags… Here is a sample of what we find in the most comfortable landfill in the world: the sea. This is what was brought up today – there by a team from the Underwater Cleaners (NSA), equipped with fins, mask and diving bottles. Created four years ago by Olivier Linardon, under the logo of an octopus whose net and trident held at the end of tentacles give the appearance of a gladiator, this association, based in La Teste-de-Buch, aims to make cleaning in the opaque bottoms of the Arcachon basin and the surrounding lakes. “There were thirty-two of us when it was created,” says the president, “there are one hundred and four of us today and we are refusing people due to lack of slots in the training pool. We are helped by dozens of volunteers on boat and on land who help us bring up and sort the waste.

These operations cannot be improvised. “They are organized with town halls, gendarmes, the maritime affairs office or the Voies navigables de France (VNF),” explains Olivier Linardon. Furthermore, recovering waste underwater meets strict rules. For example, dragging errant fishing nets is prohibited. The risk of getting tangled is too great. They are therefore signaled and fired from a boat. It is also prohibited to remove objects that underwater fauna have adopted for a long time. These rules are reminded by a waste collection guide, developed by the association The SeaCleaners, based in La Trinité, and by the French Federation of Underwater Studies and Sports (FFESSM).

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“In its infancy about twenty years ago, the practice has spread widely on the coast in recent years, either within already established clubs or young associations,” notes Vincent Maran, member of the biodiversity branch of the FFESSM. It was necessary to create a guide in response to this enthusiasm which reveals a significant evolution in mentalities. The divers from The SeaCleaners do not hesitate to come and help their colleagues from other departments. In 2023, in the port of Saint-Malo, they recorded 432 kg of waste. “Including 192 kg of plastic,” sighs Julie Lasserre, awareness manager for the association, “but also a lot of oyster farming equipment, telephones and even a washing machine! Ports are the places where people throw away the most.”

An observation shared on the Mediterranean Sea side by the forty-one members of the Bleu Gorgone association, created the day after confinement by Thomas Poméro and his friends. “The idea was not unanimous in our diving clubs. Some felt it wasn’t their place to do this work, he recalls. So we set up our structure.” They thus scraped the bottom of the port of Villefranche-sur-Mer, or even Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. “For a little over a year, town halls have been helping us with formalities, and ports have been making our task easier, especially when they are looking for the Clean Ports label,” greets the diver. In four years, they brought back 82 m3 of waste, including objects as unexpected as a jar of cannabis resin, a sex toy, “and even dentures,” marvels Thomas Poméro. They also come across surprises from the Second World War: explosives, munitions or phosphorus grenades… They then hand over to the army clearance divers.

Also read: When collecting waste becomes a hobby

During their operations, they can count on the freedivers from the Spreadfishing Mordus club. This other regional association, also keen on spearfishing, also organizes its own cleanings. It brings together between ten and twenty-five freedivers. “We share space with our bubble friends who dive deeper,” explains Louis Troquer, passionate president. “As we practice hunting, the rules of which we respect, we are very attached to the environment. Collecting waste fascinates us just as much and improves our image among the “anti-fishing” people who don’t know us well,” he adds. In addition, going back and forth in the depths for several hours proves to be excellent pulmonary exercises.

To help their associations, divers approach surrounding businesses. They collect meals and some small finances. “Our operations are of great interest to young people,” notes Louis Troquer, whose son found it a great subject for a presentation to give in class. They also make it possible to quantify and analyze waste and draw conclusions about its origins. Divers hope that they will one day make it possible to eliminate them at the source, so that they can finally dive in clear waters.

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