Photo by Linda Chion Kenney. Mica Neal of Brandon, founder of the Next Level Dive Club, posing with trash recovered at the Gasp-Our Beads of Tampa Bay Cleanup on February 2.

By Linda Chion Kenney

Tampa Bay waters are 1,500 pounds cleaner after a trash dive organized by Mica Neal of Brandon, the founder of the Next Level Dive Club, which this year organized the fourth annual Gasp-Our Beads of Tampa Bay Cleanup.

The cleanup debuted in 2017 under the auspices of the NAUI Green Diver Initiative, and as an action project for the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge, run by the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District.

Neal stepped up to host this year’s dive, which drew 18 boats and 180 volunteers to the Davis Island boat ramp in Tampa on February 2. Collected trash included a laptop, cellphone, scooter, folding minibike, collection of baseballs and 250 pounds of Gasparilla beads.

“It saddens me to see what people just don’t really care about,” Neal said. “Think about where your trash goes. If you were at your house and you just cleaned out the oil in your car, would you pour it out on your kitchen table? If you were at work and finished eating, would you throw your McDonald’s bag across a conference table? You wouldn’t. So why do you have to do it in public?”

Neal’s passion for diving led to the Next Level Dive Club he launched two years ago as a Facebook group, now with 3,600 members.

An upcoming trip to Hawaii in November 2017 prompted Neal to become a certified diver after learning about an aquarium in Hawaii that allows diving with uncaged sharks.

“I just always wanted to dive with sharks,” he said. “When I got home, I started diving even more and invested in better gear and diving equipment.”

Unhappy with the dive clubs he found on Facebook, Neal said he started his own group as “a platform for people to meet other new divers”— and not as a means toward his own notoriety.

Next on Neal’s wish list is to establish a nonprofit geared toward cleanup events, with chapters throughout the state.

In the meantime, ‘Next Level Dive Club Florida’ on Facebook posts dive trips, courses, training, special events and more. ‘Mica Neal Photography,’ also on Facebook, specializes in underwater, architectural and scenic photography.

For more information, visit www.NextLevelDiveClub.com. On Instagram, visit @nextleveldiveclub.