Clean Up The Lake Opens a New Environmental Dive Center in Incline Village
January 8, 2024 | Kayla Anderson
Originally Published in the IVCBA Live.Work.Play Publication, Written by Kayla Anderson
In 2017, filmmaker and Tahoe resident Colin West visited The Cayes in Belize and noticed an alarming amount of trash on the beaches. He felt like he needed to do something about it and learned about volunteerism. He came back to Tahoe and started hosting beach cleanups on Big Blue’s shores with money to go back into the Clean Up The Cayes conservation efforts.
It was during these sessions that West noticed that not only were the waters of Belize full of trash but there was a fair amount of it in Lake Tahoe, too. He soon launched Clean Up The Lake and found a group of volunteer divers to go out with him to see what kind of invasive materials were under the surface. He started doing pilot research dives in 2019 and the group cleaned up 600 pounds of trash by Bonsai Rock in Sand Harbor in one day. West then formed a plan to do a 72-mile circumnavigation dive around Lake Tahoe.
The covid pandemic delayed the Lake Tahoe dive a bit, but that didn’t stop Clean Up The Lake (CUTL) from continuing its research. In 2020, volunteers did a test dive one day at Donner Lake and pulled out 263 pounds of trash in just a couple of hours. The circumnavigated Donner Lake that summer in subsequent dives and learned a lot in the process.
“We had to think about so many logistics, like how to get our divers in the water (CUTL didn’t own a boat at that time and kayaks are not that conducive to carrying scuba equipment), where to put the trash, and how to separate the trash,” says CUTL Director of Operations Brad Flora. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, there are 83 categories of trash, 26 of them regarding just plastic.
They were diving three days a week, doing three dives a day, all a volunteer effort.
“We learned a lot [from the Donner Lake cleanup]. We realized we needed a wind protocol, a smoke protocol…a lot of days got cancelled,” Flora says.
“We got into a pattern of having super windy weekdays and then calm, nice weekends,” CUTL Director of Programs Sadye Easler adds. That 2021/22 winter was a big one, too- the CUTL crew had to bring thermoses of hot water to melt the dock lines.
Flash forward two years later, and the Clean Up The Lake effort has come a long way. CUTL completed its 72-mile cleanup of Lake Tahoe, removed more than 25,00 pounds of trash from Big Blue and its shoreline. It also got a new boat, a truck donated to them from Four Wheel Campers, and is now teaching others how to dive.
“We realized that we needed a lot of volunteers to do what we do and thought about how to train people to become conservation divers,” Easler says. CUTL then turned its Incline Village office space into a dive center to give people the opportunity to get PADI-certified while including an educational/voluntourism component to it. The Environmental Dive Center officially launched on August 17, 2023, and its first course was with the Washo tribe, where they were able to incorporate some of their rituals into the cleanup.
Programs such as the open water session includes a half-day in the classroom, two days of diving in a swimming pool (they have a partnership with the Truckee Community Pool), and two days of open water diving at Sand Harbor State Park.
“People can get their open water certification here but also learn about conservation diving,” Easler says. “Our mission is to ‘create an army of conservation divers,’ as Colin always says.”
For more information about the new Clean Up The Lake Environmental Dive Center in Incline Village, visit https://cleanupthelake.org/.