Volunteer Divers Save California Sea Life From “Horrible Death”

Group of volunteer divers go to dangerous depths to save sea life trapped in discarded fishing nets

Kurt Lieber is a man on a mission to save sea life off California's coast.

His Ocean Defenders Alliance rallies recreational divers to help save the environment, rallying volunteers from all around Southern California to dive to dangerous depths to remove abandoned fishing gear from the ocean floor.

Squid fishing nets and lobster traps become virtual killing fields when they are left behind. Sea lions, fish, dolphins and whales can get trapped in the nets and die slow, painful deaths.

"Rather than hire divers to go down and retrieve them they cut the net loose and call it a day. It's perfectly legal to leave these things down there," Lieber said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates there are 330-thousand tons of abandoned nets worldwide left behind by commercial fishing boats.

The Ocean Defenders Alliance recently was given a new 55-foot Chris Craft boat to help with their work. The boat was donated by former "Price is Right" host Bob Barker, a longtime animal rights activist. Lieber named the boat Bob Barker's Legasea.

Lieber and his team used it to dive 85 feet off the coast of Long Beach and recover netting off a shipwrecked boat called the African Queen. They discovered dozens of fish and other sea animals trapped in the net.

The divers cut away about 10 percent of the net, but Lieber says it will take at least five more dives to recover all of it.

Lieber says his love for sea life keeps him going.

"I try not to get emotional about it, but it's hard when you see an animal, and you know he has a rightful place in the environment, suffer this horrible death," Lieber said.

In 2008, the 57-year-old was working as an engineer building medical devices in Huntington Beach. Like thousands of other Americans he got laid off during the recession. He decided to view his misfortune as a new lease on life.

Lieber focused all of his attention on expanding the small non-profit organization he started in 2002.

"I've always wanted to have my career be to help people or the planet. So when I got laid off I figured now I can focus on the environment," Lieber said.

He hopes his work will inspire others to pursue their own passions. If you'd like to volunteer or donate visit the Ocean Defenders Alliance website at

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