Tire, toilet reef cleanup underway at Point Dume

Possibly as many as 500 toilets and car and tractor tires were dropped into the ocean on top of the Big Kelp Reef off the coast of Point Dume. No one knows who put the debris there, or when or why.

By McKenzie Jackson / Special to Malibu Times

Hundreds of pounds of moss-covered porcelain toilets that were sitting underwater atop a coral reef in the ocean at Point Dume were dropped off for disposal at the Windward Yacht Center in Marina del Rey early Tuesday morning.

A group of four men, including Malibu sea captain and diver Glen Dexter, pulled more than 60 toilets from the outer end of Big Kelp Reef at Point Dume on Monday and dropped them off at the yacht center to be recycled as part of the University of California Davis Wildlife Health Center’s “California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project.”

The five-year-old initiative is normally geared toward removing lost commercial fishing gear that can be dangerous to marine life from waters along the California coast, but until June 4 it will be directed toward removing the bundles and piles of car and tractor tires, toilets and sinks that stretch across 200 feet of the Big Kelp Reef’s surface. The California Wildlife Conservation Board and the California Coastal Commission are funding the $30,000 cleanup project.

The 61-year-old Dexter, a sea urchin and sea cucumber diver and retired Los Angeles County lifeguard, said removing the tires and toilets from the underwater reef is important because the debris is burying and destroying the reef.

“We hoping to get them out of here so more life will grow on the reef itself,” he said. “The moss will grow a bit, but that is it.

The recovery project, which is overseen by the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center’s SeaDoc Society, kicked off on Monday.

The cleanup will continue with Dexter sailing his ship, “Triton,” one and a half miles east of Point Dume to the portion of the reef that is polluted by the tires and toilets, and work with UC Davis veterinarian and recovery project coordinator Kirsten Gilardi, and San Diego divers Mike Neil and Tony Schroeder to continue removing the debris from the reef.

In order to remove the tires and toilets from the water, Neil and Schroeder will dive between 90 to 105 feet into the water and attach a special-equipped net to the items.

The group does not know how much debris needs to be removed because of visibility issues underwater, but estimates there could be more than 500 tires and toilets that need to be salvaged for recycling or disposal.

Gilardi said they don’t know who dumped the debris on top of the reef, or when or why. She said hundreds of toilets and tires are sitting on the reef, which should be swarming with marine life.

“All kinds of fish, invertebrates, snails, urchins and kelp should be there,” she said. “We would like to restore this reef to a more natural condition.”

Dexter said the tires and toilets might have been dumped in an attempt to build an artificial reef, but said it doesn’t make sense to drop the items on a natural reef.

“Kelp and everything will grow on rock,” he said. “It won’t grow on this. It is just too slick. Tires are also toxic.”

Dexter said he first noticed the tires and toilets three years ago while he was sport diving for lobster.

“I was coming along the reef and all of a sudden I saw a mile of this stuff and there were no more fish or anything in the area,” he said. “I suggested to Kirsten it would be a good cleanup, but it didn’t fit the criteria of fishing gear, but she got special funding to clean this up.”

Dexter, Neil and Schroeder, who dives for sea urchins and sea cucumbers with Dexter, were commissioned by the SeaDoc Society to work on the project.

All three have been commissioned by the society in the past to remove fishing equipment from the ocean.

Neil, a diver for three decades, said there are several hundred feet of tires, toilets and sinks that cover ledges on the reef at Point Dume.

“The tire piles are very large, probably 30 feet across and ten feet high,” he said.

Neil said he has never seen anything underwater like the debris on top of the Big Kelp Reef.

“I’ve seen some things here and there,” he said. “This is just ugly though. It just trashes out the bottom and it doesn’t make it fun to dive. You are just in awe of all the crap.”

Dexter hopes they are able to remove all of the debris within their two-week window. “If not we will have to come back,” he said.

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