Race to the bottom: Henry Wang’s deep dive on lake litter

Lake cleanup project kicked off in Buntzen Lake

There are things we lost. Things we never wanted to be found. Stuff we dropped by accident and junk we threw into the water on purpose.

Henry Wang finds it all.

The founder of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans, Wang plumbs the depths of lakes across the province. Bracing for the cold he knows will come, Wang slips into murky water, swims to the bottom and plucks up items ranging from beer bottles to shopping carts while chronicling all he sees through his social media channels.

Wang poses with a trove of trash later repurposed for an art project. photo supplied

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On Friday, Wang gathered 20 pounds of garbage from Buntzen Lake including cutlery, the remains of an inner tube, a golf ball, a masonry jar and two pairs of sunglasses in the span of a very chilly 30 minutes.

“I should’ve worn pants,” he reflects in his accompanying YouTube video.

It takes about half an hour to warm up after a dive like that, he says in a subsequent interview with the Dispatch. But as soon as his teeth stop chattering he’s usually mulling the next lake.

“I’m curious to see what I’m going to find, especially in new lakes no one has ever dove or cleaned up before,” he explains.

Wang is equal parts trash collector and explorer. Correspondingly, his TikTok videos balance environmental awareness with the same curiosity that appeals to fans of unboxing videos.

What will Henry find this time?

His work creates a murky but moving picture of human behaviour.

He finds the remnants of a party. Evidence of an insurance scam, and, near the edge of one dock, a single items that suggests a butterfingered wedding photographer.

image supplied TikTok

In Deep Cove, he came across two motorcycle frames with the serial numbers scraped off.

“I’m sure it was an insurance job,” he says. “Unbeknownst to them, we clean up there every year.”

On a visit to Sasamat Lake, he found a camera lens that he theorizes was dropped from a dock while wedding photos were being snapped.

Striking cold

Wang does about 50 dives each year. He attributes his cold-water constitution to some good advice he received when he was planning his first dive.

He was set to take a diving class in Mexico when a friend warned him away from the warm water.

“If you’re a cold water diver, you’ll always be a cold water diver,” he remembers being told. Otherwise, Wang notes, it’s like learning to dive in a bathtub.

After honing his underwater skill set, a friend invited Wang to dive into Buntzen Lake. Never having dived in a freshwater lake before, he agreed.

He remembers surveying a layer trash coating the lake floor.

“We just picked up a couple beer cans and just carried them in our arms,” he recalls. “That’s all we could do.”

He went back. He had some equipment this time but, it turned out, near nearly enough.

“We hardly even did any damage at all,” he says.

He went back. That time, he came with even more equipment and seven fellow divers. They collected about 1,500 pounds of trash, he recalls.

“From there on it just exploded into lake after lake,” he says, recalling trips to Lost Lake in Whistler and Cat Lake in Squamish. “Party area after party area.”

Making a splash on social media

Wang had been diving for trash for about six years when he sold his business to devote more of his energy to taking care of his elderly father.

As he spent time online, Wang found himself asking a simple yet daunting question: “If that guy can have 500,000 followers, why can’t I have 500,000 followers?”

He set about turning his environmental initiative into online content while maintaining a straightforward approach to storytelling.

He doesn’t jump off cliffs. He doesn’t make many jokes, he advises his viewers. “I just pick up one beer can after another . . . There’s nothing particularly exciting about it,” he says in one TikTok video.

image supplied

Recently, Wang says he’s primarily focused on YouTube and TikTok.

“It’s very, very difficult to grow Instagram and it’s not a place people go for stories,” he explains.

Between media storage, website hosting, music services, and fuel to get to different lakes, he estimates he’s paying more than $1,000 a month and not bringing in anywhere near that. However, he’s also found a community.

“Even if no one was paying me . . . I’d still be doing it,” he says.

Wang encourages everyone to get involved with trash removal, even if it just means keeping an eye out when walking the family dog.

“People can do this anywhere,” he says. “They can do it any time.”

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