Explore UAB

UAB in Antarctica
The pile of tires, ship railing, and smaller materials collected on the Earth Day dive.
You probably know that Earth Day was last weekend. Our UAB in Antarctica group teamed up with other current Palmerites to do our bit to keep the station’s underwater surroundings clean.

Our group has been here many times for Earth Day. Earth Day is special everywhere, but takes on extra significance when you are in such a beautiful place as this. It is a place where everyone takes environmental stewardship very seriously.

For many years, each Earth Day our group would make a dive at the station pier to collect materials that had been dropped by people on the ship or station boats, knocked off the pier, or otherwise mistakenly ended up on the bottom of the harbor. Over the years we found everything from hardware to soda bottles to cameras. I used to joke that when you found a camera, you could still here the echo of the owner’s anguished cry when she or he saw it hit the water.

On those Earth Day dives we would swim around filling mesh collection bags with the small items we found. We would have ropes hanging down to the bottom from several places on the station pier. When we filled a bag, we lugged it along the bottom over to the pier, clipped it to one of the ropes, and then gave the rope three tugs. Others from the station would be waiting at the top of the ropes to pull the bags up and send down an empty one for us to fill again. In 2007, the National Science Foundation featured a photo of all of us with our accumulated debris on the homepage of their web site.

A few years ago we stopped doing the Earth Day dives because we ran out of debris around the pier small enough for us to safely collect. People still dropped stuff near the pier occasionally, but we dive there enough for our research that just picking up one or two things we happened to see on a regular science dive kept the area as clean as we could keep it.

Underwater photograph of tires with Chuck approaching them.
This year, however, there were some new things for us to pick up. Since we left last May, an effort was made to use tires to reinforce part of the huge bumpers that are attached to the pier to keep the ship away from it. A few of those tires mistakenly fell off, which you can see in the photo above which was screen-grabbed from a video recorded by a camera Sabrina wears on her mask. The ship had also had some railing from the back deck fall off into the sea when it was being replaced.

Sabrina and Chuck on Palmer's floating dock preparing for the Earth Day dive.
Finally, we had something we could do an Earth Day dive for again. Late Earth Day afternoon, Sabrina and I, seen above in a photograph by the station’s satellite communication engineer, Mike Rice, went in off the floating dock as buddy team 1. Maggie and USF colleague Andrew went in soon after as buddy team 2. Michelle oversaw the retrieval activity on the pier while CJ helped us get into our gear and stayed at the floating dock to help us when we got out.

Palmer Station folks hauling Earth Day dive debris up from the water.
Sabrina and I went to the tires, which were right next to the pier. We lugged them along the bottom over to a rope from the center of the pier that Michelle was overseeing. The rope had a loop with a carabiner that I put through the tire and clipped back to the rope. I gave it three firm tugs, which was the signal to Michelle and the other folks on the surface that it was time to pull the object up once they saw my bubbles move away from the pier. You can see station head chef and food service supervisor Kristen Vawter and waste management specialist Kris Perry happily pulling on the rope along with others in Mike Rice’s photograph above and video below.

Meanwhile, Maggie and Andrew swam to the biggest part of the ship’s railing, which was further from the pier. It took them a long time to drag it across the bottom. By the time they got to Sabrina and me, we had all six tires out of the water and were just about to start on some smaller railing pieces that were closer to the pier. Working together, the four of us got all of that plus some smaller things we also found over to the pier so our colleagues could pull them up onto the pier.

Most of the Palmer Station 2018 Earth Day team on the pier with the pile of debris collected from the ocean bottom.

We had quite a pile by the end of the dive which you can see in Mike Rice’s photograph at the very top of the page as well as in artist Karen Romano Young’s photograph of most of the team directly above. Kris Perry, after spending a fair bit of time sawing the ship railing into smaller pieces, now has it all packed into boxes with other station trash in a container van to be removed from Antarctica. It was a great group effort that over half the people on station participated in, and a very satisfying way to contribute to taking care of this exceptionally special place.