Monday, February 17, 2014

Making Catalina Even More Beautiful: Avalon Harbor Cleanup | @VisitCatalina #SCUBA #Travel

Divers in front of Casino

February is my favorite time of the year.  No not because of flowers and candy, although those are definitely a plus!  But it is when I get to spend a weekend at my favorite place on earth, Catalina Island, for a romantic getaway with my husband.

I actually start planning the last full weekend of February almost a year in advance.  What is so important?

The Avalon Harbor Cleanup.  This sounds like an odd thing to look forward to but it is my favorite fundraiser that I have been a part of for 21 years!  YIKES!  The only time that I had not participated was the year I had knee surgery the week before and my doctor wouldn't clear me for diving.

Catalina Island, only 26 miles across the sea... (insert music here)  has been a large part of my life since before I was born.  In fact, my family had built some of the original ferries that made it's way across to this paradise in its hay day.  Many a celebrities crossed over on ships we built!

Growing up, I spent all my summers on the beautiful Island of Catalina and more specifically, Avalon.  I learned to walk on the decks of boats swaying in the harbor and took my first swim along the sandy shore next to the green pier.   My first job was giving snorkel tours at Lovers Cove, a beautiful marine preserve that you can enjoy from the water or the glass bottom boats.

One thing that I wanted to do more than anything else was SCUBA dive!  I had grown up swearing that I would be a marine biologist and up until I met a boy in high school, that was the plan.  Long story short, I got SCUBA certified in 1993 and one of my first memorable events I did was the Avalon Harbor Cleanup.

What is the Avalon Harbor Cleanup?  Once a year, the City of Avalon, the Catalina Conservancy and hundreds of volunteers get together, rain or shine, to clean up the bottom of beautiful Avalon Bay.  The only time in the whole year you have to dive in the harbor is on this day.   People arrive from around the world to check in at 5 different stations around the harbor with underwater trash bags in hand to do our part to clean up our oceans.

Divers entering at Green Pier

Imagine a beach cleanup under water and you have a pretty good idea of what happens.  What could be found underwater to cleanup?  You guess it and we have found it!  To make the cleanup fun, prizes are given out to objects that are brought up each year that are made by the Avalon School's art department.  The categories include:
  • Smallest
  • Rarest/most expensive
  • Historical
  • Most Romantic
  • Most perverted(I actually won this category the first year it was created)
  • Most unusual 
  • Household items and more!


Some of the most unusual items I have personally brought up include:

  • A nautical pin with a naked woman spread eagle on it attached to a rope(no kidding! This won the most perverted)
  • A shopping cart
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Area rugs
  • Whole chicken eggs
  • Money
  • Glass bottles
  • Wallets
  • Ironing board
  • MUCH more!
You would think that after all the years(this is the 33rd year) all the trash would have been found but with Avalon being a popular summer hang out for the boating scene, the trash is replenished and multiplied year after year.

Divers have 1 tank to dive in the harbor and for the second year, Lovers Cove.  Depending on the divers experience and dive conditions, that can last from 30 minutes to over an hour and a half.  There are safety officers in kayaks available to watch out for problems and are wonderful for helping find lost "buddies".

Avalon, Catalina

More volunteers check in and out the divers as the enter/exit the water.  Every diver is checked in/out to make sure that no divers are lost or still out in the harbor.  Often, a diver will exit another station due to getting lost or lack of air.  The divers are encouraged to enter and exit the same station but situations due occur and as long as the check out as soon as they can, it isn't a problem.

After everyone is accounted for and dried off with a little food in their stomachs, the award ceremony is held at Wrigley stage(the stage found on the beach next to the green pier).  Here the divers can pick up swag bags that include tee-shirts, discounts and other goodies and buy their raffle tickets.

The raffle is the most anticipated part of the day as often, over $20,000 worth of items are given away. The prizes are all donated for the Catalina Conservancy.  The prizes have included in the past:
  • SCUBA tanks
  • Regulators
  • Masks/fins/snorkels
  • BCD's
  • Trips to Catalina
  • Parasailing
  • Glass-bottom boat rides
  • Zip-line tickets
  • Hotel Stays
  • Catalina Express tickets
  • Videos
  • Oh... and a favorite in the last decade, stuffed monkeys, often donated from the LA Zoo but more recently donated by one of my great friends, the Master of Ceremonies, TJ Jones
  • and much more!
Swag items such as candy, dive cards, tee-shirts and more are thrown to the enthusiastic crowd awaiting the dive and raffle prizes.

Throwing swag to the crowd

There are a couple awards that take place additional to the normal dive awards which include:
  • Golden Flipper Award- for the volunteer that is recognized for donating above and beyond to the Catalina Conservancy cause
  • The Bull Shit Award- (actual Catalina bison poop that is spray-painted gold on a plaque) for the best story made up using the items that they found in the harbor
Avalon Harbor Cleanup, 2014

We generally plan on making a adults weekend of the event which starts off with drinks on the Catalina Express and karaoke on Friday night at the El Galleon and ends with caramel apples and ice-cream at Big Olaf's on Sunday.

To register for this memorable event, check out the the registration/information page.

My husband and I don't get many date nights and almost never any date weekends.  This weekend we make sure that we mark on the calendar every year as OUR weekend and it helps that it is always the weekend after Valentines Day.  It is a time to re-connect with each other away from the kids and remember how it is to be adults again.

Avalon Harbor, Catalina

There is no other place in the world that I would rather be than Catalina Island!  If you don't make it over for the Harbor Cleanup this year, be sure to look into it for a great close get away or family vacation.  There is so much to do even if you don't SCUBA dive.

  • Snorkeling
  • Scenic tours
  • Glass-bottom boats
  • Golf
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Hiking
  • Horse-back riding
  • Shopping
  • Zip-lining/ Eco-Tours
  • Ghost Tours
  • Botanical Gardens 
  • Historical Tours and more!
Visit the Catalina Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau to book your next vacation.

Avalon, Catalina


  1. WoW what an amazing event, and love the romantic twist. Can't wait to visit Catalina in May!!!

  2. How wonderful, Kirstin! Thanks so much for all your efforts. We love Catalina too and wish everyone would try harder to keep Catalina beautiful. <3


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