UPDATE (6/3/16): After more than a year of development and testing, we are excited to announce next week’s release of our collaboration model with Bureo Skateboards. ‘The Ahi’ with Carver’s CX.3 Mini trucks pushes the limits of skateboard innovation, and the board is yet another way Bureo is empowering us all to help save the ocean. By repurposing discarded fishing nets, each board prevents 50 square feet of harmful fishing net waste from entering the ocean and causing collateral damage.
We started early, in the pre-dawn light of a warm Wednesday at the San Pedro Port O’ Call on the southern California coast. We were there to meet up with Dave and Kevin from Bureo, a company that’s setting up fishing net collection centers along the coast of Chile and turning the recycled nylon into useful products. One of the first products they’ve developed is a skateboard made from the nets. Besides doing good by helping the local community, this project keeps discarded nets out of the ocean, where they can wreak havoc as they drift with the currents, continuing to fish like a deadly trawler pulled by no one. That’s how this problem gets the name Ghostfishing. Giant crabs, sea turtles, dolphins and sea lions are often caught in the lost nets and can’t escape. But the problem of loose ghost nets is a worldwide phenomenon, and today we’re taking a dive boat off the point of Catalina Island to see just how close to home this problem really is.
As the sun comes up we load the boat with a whole lot of gear, from the numerous tanks and suits used by the divers, to the motorized water scooters and net deployment balloons. It’s important to let people know this is happening here in the USA too, and rally to support for more widespread collection and recycling efforts.
The 3-hour trip to our previously scouted location was spectacular, as we motored over calm waters under clear skies.
As we meet with the divers to go over the sequence of events to come we learn how dangerous their work can be. It turns out we’re heading to the wreck of a fishing boat, appropriately called the Infidel, that sank a decade ago loaded with nets. And over the years it has continued to snag other discarded nets drifting with the currents. Jamal, the lead diver, and his wife Heather brought a model of the boat so they can coordinate everyone’s movements and choreograph their work flow. There’s not a lot of time to work 150 feet down, so they need to follow very specific plans. These are very technical dives requiring extensive certification to qualify, as many of the seemingly fun activities are actually potentially deadly.
Even the timing of the dive has to be carefully monitored, from their air supply to the time it takes to decompress. Greg Falk of Carver is tasked with recording each diver’s entry, descent and decompression, ensuring they have sufficient time and air to come up to the surface slowly. At this depth it will take several hours. If they come up too fast oxygen will bubble up in their blood and give them a heart attack. It’s called the bends.
After each highly trained diver jumps in at the wreck site loaded with extra tanks and tools, they dive down to the wreckage, locate the nets and attach inflatable balloons to pull them up towards the surface. But as is common with ghostnets, they are completely snagged onto the vessel and have to be cut free. And since they’re made from super tough nylon designed to not rip or tear, they’re very difficult to free from the wreckage. The divers need to hack off any attachment points with sharp knives, careful not to slip and cut their air supply lines, their suits or themselves. Visibility is fair at the start of the operation, but once they start working the water clouds up with silt released from all the jostling.
One of the most dangerous aspects of this process is the potential to get caught by the net once it’s released, as it will speed to the surface and drag anyone or anything with it quickly. The bends spares no one, so getting caught by a rising net will result in certain death. Even as the divers are aware of these dangers, it doesn’t dampen the stoke they have for their mission. They smile and joke at first, but once the suits come on they focus seriously on equipment checks.
A half-hour after they submerged we see a patch of bubbles fizzing in a boil, a sign that something is coming up. Just then a bright orange balloon pops to the surface and Jeff, the captain of the boat, swings it around while David pulls the first net in. We sort through it immediately, removing any marine life tangled inside. After several more balloons we collect around a hundred pounds of net, which would be enough material to produce 200 skateboards if these nets weren’t contaminated with so much organic material. As it is, perhaps only one quarter of these nets are recyclable. This is yet another reason that prevention and collection are more effective than retrieval.
The return trip is like a vegan hunt loaded with the prize game, only instead of ‘killing for sport’, these folks are ‘saving for sport’. I’m humbled by the purity of their actions, and by the calm fierceness they embody. I’m happy to know that such people actually exist. I know the feeling of hopelessness that can come from being confronted by ecological problems of such magnitude. How could my lone voice have any significant impact? These divers and the Bureo partners don’t let that get in their way. And because of that they are making exactly such an impact; in the lives of the fisherman, the well-being of marine animals and the health of our oceans. But most importantly they’re having an effect on us, on our attitudes about our own choices and actions.
The skateboard was never the end game, but rather an example of what can be done, both with this material and with the idea of engaging with an environmental problem. As we participate we inspire others to participate too, and that lone voice gets louder. Bureo has already expanded their collaborations to include premiums sunglasses made with the recycled net nylon, and more projects are in the works. Because it’s not just one action that will create change, it’s the accumulation of many actions together.
This is just the proof of concept.
Carver is proud to collaborate with Bureo on the new Mahi recycled skateboard, featuring our CX Mini trucks and Soythane wheels. The finely engineered deck is wider than other plastic boards, and designed with concave, nose and tail kicks and molded-in risers. This is no little cruiser, but a high performance marine-grade surfskate. The best way to encourage adoption of an eco-solution such as this one is to let the performance stand on its own merits first and foremost, without compromise. Bureo’s scientific approach to product design and rigorous testing is a perfect match to Carver’s commitment to performance and premium quality.