Diver Ralph Tukfield surveyed the underwater sardine situation. He described what he called a blanket of small dead fish. But it's not as thick as he expected.
"It might be three to four inches thick," said Tukfield. "In other places the bottom is clear and you can see the bottom material."
There are fewer fish on the bottom because Mother Nature is doing her part. It's been three days since the massive school of fish suffocated in King Harbor. As the sardines decay, they float up to the surface.
The smell Thursday is less than pleasant. Scoopers are now in place to gather the fish and help speed up the cleanup.
Experts believe the school of fish entered the harbor seeking shelter from the wind and predator fish, and did not have enough oxygen in the shallow water.
"This is a natural occurrence," said Chief Dan Madrigal from Redondo Beach Fire. "It's something that we have anticipated but it is posing a secondary challenge for us, trying to stay on top of it."
Vacuum trucks are poised to pluck sardines from the water's edge, sucking up five tons per load. Workers are bringing in the would-be bait by the boatload. The countless buckets and wheel barrels full of dead fish will join the already 50 tons buried in Victorville under woodchips by American Organic.
Dozens of volunteers are willing to stomach the stench of the three-day-old fish. The faster the harbor gets cleaned up, the sooner Eric Smith will be able to enjoy his playground of 50 years.
"The feeling you mostly want is to see everything cleaned up," said Smith. "And to help the community, because it is a big project. Every time we start scooping, more just keep coming in."
If you would like to help clean up, work will still need to be done for the next two days. The city estimates the cost of the sardine suction, the scooping and the removal will cost about $100,000.