Team Labyrinth Assemble!

The mash up between Team Labyrinth, Project AWARE and B&J has been a few months in the pipeline. A series of will it happen, won’t it happen emails were exchanged and for the first time in history a project like this actually worked out without any hiccups! I love it when a plan comes together!

Team Labyrinth is a small group of divers, sailors and film makers who use an old sailing trimaran named Labyrinth to travel to remote islands, team up with local conservation groups and make films about important issues. Jase, Jo, James and Roxy are on the first leg of their seven month voyage around the Coral Triangle where they will be filming a documentary to raise awareness of various conservation issues. In Tioman, they are focussing on the messy issue of marine debris – which you know from previous posts is a major concern here in Tioman!

Dive Against Debris in style
Diving Against Debris in style with Project Labyrinth’s beautiful Yacht

This is where Project AWARE became involved. The PA Foundation is a growing movement of scuba divers protecting the ocean planet – one dive at a time. Team Labyrinth and PA decided that because Hannah (one of PA’s program specialists) and the crew were already in Malaysia for the MIDE dive show, it was the perfect time for her to touch base with divers who are in the water fighting for Project AWARE’s cause and also do some filming for the documentary.

Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris campaign has been going strong over the last year or so and B&J has been conducting regular surveys and logging data at Project AWARE. Nic recently became a Dive Against Debris Specialty Instructor and Hannah really wanted to do the course so it was the perfect opportunity for us all to get together and raise awareness of the good work we do!

On the 16th June, the team gathered at the dive centre. Hannah and Nic did some interviews with Jase and then it was onto a classroom presentation for the Dive Against Debris Specialty course.

Nic conducts the Dive Against Debris theory portion with Hannah
Nic conducts the Dive Against Debris theory portion with Hannah

Nic and Hannah discussed the global issues of marine debris; what it is, where it comes from and how to stop it. They also talked about how important it is for divers to be involved in conservation activities because only they have the skills to go underwater and remove trash. They went over the steps of planning, conducting and reporting survey dives in preparation for the activities the following day.

The Project Labyrinth documentary team
From left to right: Nic, Hannah, Jo, Jase, Roxy and James

After a good nights sleep, the team headed to the marina to board Labyrinth and set off to Mangrove Bay at Coral Island. This was an area that Jase had highlighted as a major concern for debris due to a number of reasons:

  • Inconsiderate dive and snorkel boats throw their waste overboard
  • The area is a popular sheltered spot for fishing boats to moor up during storms and rest time. They clean and fix their equipment and discard unusable nets overboard, along with their general food waste and rubbish
  • The mangroves at the far end of the bay act as a sieve for any floating debris riding on the currents

The conditions were flat calm and we enjoyed our leisurely ride over to the dive site. Of course, the pod of playful dolphins that joined us made the ride even better!

Dolphins spotted on the journey to Coral Island
The trimaran nets made the perfect place to see these awesome creatures!
A pod of dolphins playing in the bow waves
Taking a sneaky peak at the Go Pro
A pod of dolphins playing with the yacht on the journey to Coral Island
The scars on the dolphin’s back suggest this is not the first time they have played with boats!

As expected, there were already a few fishing boats as well as snorkelers and divers on their surface interval. We moored up and split into teams. Hannah, Nic, James and Roxy hit the reef to conduct a Dive Against Debris survey while Jase and Jo headed to the mangroves with the dingy to assess the damage.

Dive Against Debris with Nic Emery
Dive Against Debris course with Nic
Fishing boats seek shelter in the calms of Mangrove Bay
Fishing boats seek shelter in the calms of Mangrove Bay

The reef was in reasonable shape considering it’s not a popular dive spot so no daily DiveMasters and Instructors looking after the area.  The expected culprits of plastic bottles and metal cans were found. We did find some other unusual items such as clothing and air filters and unfortunately huge fishing nets smothering the corals.

On the hunt for marine debris
On the hunt for marine debris
Huge fishing nets smother corals
Huge fishing nets smother corals
Marine debris on the reef
A fair amount of trash was found on the reef
Removing marine debris from the reef
Hannah carefully removes plastic bottles
Pulling debris onto the dinghy
Jase works hard to pull the junk onto the dinghy

Meanwhile, in the mangroves was a different story. Jase and Jo were met with enormous amounts of debris – more than we could have imagined. They filled the dinghy with as much as they could and headed back to the yacht.

A dinghy full of debris
A dinghy full of debris

We assessed the damage and formed a plan for the afternoon over a lovely lunch cooked by Jo. More work is definitely needed in the mangroves but it needs more manpower. B&J intend to tackle this during the next Project AWARE clean up event.

After the food had settled, the gang hit the water to bring up the huge fishing net with a lift bag and then use the crane to get it back onto the yacht.

Attaching lift bag
James attaches the lift bag and carefully adds air
Net drifts to the surface for collection
25kg of net slowly rises to the surface
Hoisting collected debris onto the yacht
All hands on deck to get it on board

Once the net was safely on board, Hannah, James and Nic headed back into deeper waters to see if they could find any fishing traps. What they did find was random old tyres and fishing net which looked as if it had been placed there on purpose perhaps to create a fish aggregating device (FAD) and popular fishing spot. It looked like it had been there a while and it was decided that a little ecosystem had formed over the years and more damage would be done if it was removed.

Before we left Coral Island, Hannah started to collate her Dive Against Debris data – sorting the trash into the various categories and recording the numbers. We pulled out a good 27kg of trash in under an hour.

Sorting marine debris
Hannah sorts and records for her survey
Weighing collected debris
Nearly 3kg of general waste

We also took our time to sort through the fishing net we removed. It doesn’t matter how carefully you cut net away from a reef – the damage has already been done through weeks and months of water movement. This tangles the net around the coral more and more, making it almost impossible not to catch small fragments of coral when you lift the net. Not to mention the stubborn invertebrates that refuse to leave their temporary home! We sort and remove everything living in the net and return it to the ocean and head back to base with some humus and beers.

Fishing net removed from the reef
The net looks even bigger on the surface!
Removing entangled crustaceans
We carefully sift through the net removing any critters like this!

With the rough edit of the documentary almost complete, it has been fantastic to be a part of this adventure. We do everything we can to highlight the issue of marine debris and our Instructors, DiveMasters and customers fight the battle every day. Not a dive is made without someone collecting at least one item of trash.

The issue in the mangroves is going to need a dedicated task force. If you are interested in dedicating your time to help remove some debris then please get in touch with Nic ( We are planning an event in September for International Clean Up Day, but we appreciate your help at any time!

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