Saturday, 31 May 2014

Supermarket River Sweep…

I started learning to SCUBA diver in February 2013 and fell in love with being under the water. Chris Elliot (aka The Master) asked for help on a project he and Matt, another student, were running in the autumn, the second river clean.  I went along on the day to help on the shore and was blown away by the amount of rubbish that was dragged from such a small section of the river Thames.
Jump forward six months and Chris approached me asking if I would organise KUSAC’S third Thames River Clean.  I was in my final year of study and commuting from Sussex, but jumped at the chance to be involved in such a brilliant scheme, little did I understand the amount of work that has to be put in before the scheme can even get off the ground. Thank goodness for Chris and the Union of Kingston Students’ Volunteering Office who were there to support and help me to keep the project on track.
The date was arranged and things were running smoothly when…. Mother Nature decided to throw a spanner in the works and sent rain, rain, rain and more rain, so much that the Thames was flooding!  So with time and the weather against us we had to postpone until the New Year.

This delay though gave us time to work with Thames 21 and train up future student organisers of the River Clean and other environmental projects.  It also gave us time to build stronger links with other organisations and companies such as Aquanauts, a local scuba and snorkelling shop whose owners, Ian and Lynne, donated cylinders and air for our divers to use along with volunteer divers from their dive club who were indispensable.

So the new date is in place Saturday 24th May 2014. The Environment Agency have given us the go ahead, closed off one of the arches of Kingston Bridge, provided us with a river barge for rubbish, and informed all river users of the activity.  KUSAC ready, Divers information collated and all ready for the off, insurances checked, volunteers organised, KUBAG loaning equipment, Aquanauts equipment and divers ready, volunteers organised, KU Kayakers and KU Mountaineers ready.  Parking organised free by the Bentalls centre, Local council on-board, Environment agency organised, Metropolitan Police Kingston informed and aware of project… so now to cross fingers and toes and pray for good weather.

The day arrives… I have stayed at Simon’s (Dive Manager for this project) and am up at daft O’clock (that’s before 6am!) and walk along to meet Chris to collect the equipment.  Then on to Horse Fair Quay where the river clean is being carried out.  By half eight the majority of volunteers have arrived and organising is in full swing.  Volunteers are signed in, and health and safety talks have been given so now it is down to business.

The first group of four divers enter the water; the kayakers are providing surface cover and protection to our divers under the surface.  Sarah and Steve from the Volunteer Office, volunteers from Kingston University Mountaineering club, KUSAC, KUBAG, Aquanauts, Thames 21 and other Kingston students and alumni were ready on shore to pull the debris ashore.

The goal was to clean as much as we could, of the area behind the Bentalls centre on Horsefair Quay; oh and to beat the last river clean trolley count!
The water looks murky from above but it is not until you go under the surface that you realise how bad the visibility is down there. It looks okay until you move or move an item that is in the thick gloopy muddy silt on the bottom.  The divers had to use their hands to “feel” where the next item was located or sit and wait for the silt to settle take in their bearings and then reach for the item knowing that as soon as they moved the silt would come back up and reduce their visibility to just the end of their noses.  So the divers grab the grapnel that has been lowered down to them from one of the shore people, dive under the water and attach it to whatever item they have discovered and then tug on the rope to let the shore party aware that something needs to be pulled up.  The divers then move away from the object so as not to get trapped though keeping an eye on the item in case it gets tangled in
other debris.

On the shore the volunteers from all the different sports clubs along with all other volunteers, members of dive club, Aquanauts, Thames 21, and the local RNLI team from Teddington who also popped in to help for a couple of hours, are ready and eagerly awaiting the treasure trove of items that the Thames is going to sprout forth.  From divers to water and shore rescue teams, litter pickers, waders, pullers and grabbers, tea and coffee makers, washer uppers and general go to it girls and guys all hands were on deck.

Not only did the RNLI give us water cover, after lunch they also helped to pull items from the river by loaning their muscle power to pull debris from the Thames.

And so the massive task of stacking all of the materials/bicycles/debris on to the floating rubbish barge began in earnest.

  The final tally of rubbish included, 105 metal shopping trolleys, 388 glass bottles, 244 drinking glasses, 3 prams, 22 bricks, 45 CD’s, 3 coconuts, 1 stove, 1 microwave oven door, 2 dead pigeons, 2 battery packs,  2 mallets, 2 gas cylinders, 30 skateboards, 1 children’s bicycle, 13 adult bicycles, 14 scaffold poles, 4 logs and many many many items that are far too many to list but in total there was over 4 tonnes of rubbish removed from the river that day!!!

An absolutely amazing achievement by all those involved.
I am so pleased with the result and the hard work and dedication from all of those involved. The day itself ran really smoothly with everyone finding a job or role that they could do.  Many a smile and some laughter, with a Christmas like quality to the air sometimes with people wondering what was going to be dragged out of the river next!!

I want to extend an HUGE thank you to all involved (majority shown here) for working so hard and managing to help in retrieving such an huge amount of rubbish from the Thames with little to no fuss, you were all A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

4pm and all divers out of the water, time to clean up, wash down the area, clear up and go home!  By 7pm Chris and I had put the last bit of equipment away and were shattered.

Time to go home and relax with a nice glass of red wine, until the next time, on your trolleys, get set, GO...  Kathy J

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