Last weekend, 633 divers filed into the waters off Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier in Florida, part of a mass initiative to remove trash from the area’s reefs and ocean floor. According to CNN’s Michelle Lou, the team broke a Guinness World Record for the largest underwater cleanup effort—and, more importantly, retrieved thousands of pounds of trash that had been polluting the marine environment.
The event was organized by the local shop Dixie Diver, which has been staging an annual cleanup for the past 15 years, reports Julia Jacobo of ABC News. But this year, Arilton Pavan, the store’s owner, decided to aim for the World Record, which was previously set in 2015 by 614 divers who cleaned up the Red Sea.
Divers flocked to Deerfield Beach from as far as Europe and South America to participate in the event. To count towards the World Record effort, they had to be certified divers, be outfitted in full scuba gear and spend at least 15 minutes hunting for trash in the water. Guinness adjudicator Michael Empric was on hand to conduct the official headcount.
Within two hours, the divers pulled up at least 1,626 pounds of trash; the total weight is still being tallied and may climb up to 3,200 pounds, reports Lou. This pocket of the Atlantic is emblematic of a much larger problem, which sees an estimated 14 billion pounds of trash enter the ocean each year. Most of the pollution is plastic, which poses numerous threats to animals and coral reefs. At the Deerfield Beach pier, a popular fishing hub, the divers not only unearthed plastic debris, but also another harmful substance: lead.
“There were countless lead sinkers,” Tyler Bourgoine, who took part in the cleanup, tells Lou.
Lead, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is used in most fishing jigs, or lures, and sinkers, or weights that anchor lures or hooks, and it can have a dangerous effect on wildlife. Water birds and fish eat sinkers that get lost in aquatic environments when fishing lines break or snap, which puts the animals at risk of lead poisoning.
Among the other debris hauled up by the divers were a boat ladder, a barbell and a metal sign still stamped with red lettering: “Boats Must Not Come Within 100 Yards of Pier.” And while the cleanup team was happy to set a new World Record, they were in large part motivated by the drive to rid Florida’s coast of such pollution. On the day of the event, even Empric, the Guinness adjudicator, told Wayne K. Roustan of the South Florida Sun Sentinel that “[i]t doesn’t matter what happens today with the Guinness World Records.”
“What really matters,” Empiric added, “is that everyone is out there cleaning up around the pier and trying to improve the community.”