By Dido Polo Monterrosa
Taganga, Colombia, Jul 11 (EFE).- A group of freediving enthusiasts in Colombia are doing their part to remove plastic waste from the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.
Submerging themselves in coastal ocean waters, they are performing underwater clean-up work and calling attention to the need to protect the marine environment.
These members of a freediving club in the northern port city of Barranquilla meet from Monday to Friday to swim in pools or confined water and then on weekends venture out into deep water.
Two of their favorite spots are the waters off the coast of Taganga, a fishing village near the city of Santa Marta, and those off Cartagena, so they are focusing their underwater clean-up efforts there.
“We’re looking to raise awareness that this is so beautiful (and) must be protected,” said freediver Elkin Castro, who explained that the beaches they visit are polluted with solid waste left behind by tourists.
Castro added that the “problem of plastic waste in the ocean is real” and that nearly 70 percent of the trash they remove is “plastic, such as bags, styrofoam, toothbrushes and food wrappings.”
Besides the clean-up work, that sports club also carries out different activities aimed at reducing the use of single-use plastics, including raising awareness on social media, freediver Maria Camila Atencio said.
According to figures from the United Nations, between 75 percent and 85 percent of the trash in the Caribbean Sea is the result of activities on land and the majority is plastic waste.
It is also estimated that more than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by that pollution, whether through ingestion, entanglement or other dangers.
GIVING BACK TO THE SEA
Colombia is a scuba diving tourism destination and the second-most biodiverse country on the planet.
The country also boasts freediving locations such as Cartagena, Isla Baru, the Archipelago of San Bernardo, Santa Marta, the fishing village of Taganga and Tayrona National Natural Park.
“We can use some of our breaths to dive down to the sea floor and remove waste,” Castro said.
“We do it with tremendous love because we’re practicing the sport we love and we’re contributing our little grain of sand to solving this problem.”
“It’s a way of pushing ourselves,” said Atencio, who described the process as telling their bodies they have to return the generosity they have received from the sea by collecting plastic via freediving.
The plastic pollution figures are alarming, according to Greenpeace Colombia.
That environmental watchdog said 1.25 million tons of plastic are consumed every year, equivalent to 24 kilograms (53 pounds) of plastic that are discarded by every Colombian and “invade cities and pollute seas, rivers and wetlands.”
MORE THAN AN EXTREME SPORT
“Freediving is that encounter with liberty. I can merge with the water, and it’s a moment of intimacy,” said Castro, who added that, like close mammals such as dolphins or whales, “we have certain physiological adaptations that allow us to be able to practice this sport.”