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The Cayes in Belize and Lake Tahoe are two vastly different places. Yet, they both hold a spectacular beauty within the array of crystal-clear blue waters which draw people from around the world to visit. It is the desire to protect that unique beauty of the Cayes in Belize that inspired Clean Up The Lake Executive Director and Founder Colin West to take action to help preserve its natural state. In late 2017 he took a trip to the Cayes to explore the enchanting landscape and shoreline. Upon arrival he was hit with an unexpected reality: Belize has a huge trash problem.  

Unable to shake the image of plastic garbage spread across the shoreline beaches of Belize, Colin formed a plan to help tackle the issue. As a result, Colin decided to create an experience that would combine having fun with making a difference. His goal is to establish a voluntourism program that gives tourists the opportunity to make a lasting positive impact on the area.  For example, through beach and SCUBA clean-ups and collaborative partnerships with locals the organization can help create new programs and disposal strategies. With this in mind, upon his return home to Lake Tahoe, California he created the 501(c)3 nonprofit Clean Up The Cayes.

In August of 2018, Colin organized a shoreline beach cleanup on the North-side of Tahoe in Kings Beach, CA. With the help of 10-15 volunteers, 40 lbs. of garbage was picked up from the area; the majority of it being small litter items. Meanwhile, a group of people conducted an underwater SCUBA cleanup at Bonsai Rock that same day. As a result of the clean-up, divers pulled 600 lbs. of garbage from the lake. In light of this information Colin began diving in Tahoe to explore the issue first-hand. In a survey dive on September 21st, 2019 his team removed 311 pounds of submerged debris from an area on the east shore of Lake Tahoe.  The more time he spent underwater, the clearer the trash problem became; thus the 72-mile-clean-up project was born. 

In the wake of a global pandemic, the 72-mile-clean-up project was postponed. Yet, the development and growth of the organization continued to thrive in 2020. Colin and his team of coordinators took the opportunity to fine tune skills, build COVID-19 safety protocols, assess dive plans and build volunteer experiences. In addition, the organization finished it’s first circumnavigation clean-up of Donner Lake. By the end of the summer, 8,780.5 pounds of submerged trash was removed from both Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe combined. In May 2021, the team will embark on the 72-mile SCUBA clean-up of Lake Tahoe with a refined set of skills, protocols, and experience.  

Ultimately, the spark of inspiration from a trip to Belize ignited a tremendous environmental movement to help protect our nation’s largest alpine lake. While the organization continues to grow and expand its reach in the Tahoe community and beyond, it will not lose sight of launching Clean Up The Cayes voluntourism trips in the future. Upon completion of the 72-mile clean up the group is hopeful to launch trips to Belize in 2022.  Stay tuned for more information on Belize in the future.

Next we will take a deeper dive into the 72-mile SCUBA clean-up of Lake Tahoe…