Divers clean up fishing gear, garbage
More than 100 divers turned out Saturday morning to help clean up fishing gear and other debris from the pier pilings on Okaloosa Island and the surrounding area.
Last year, the Okaloosa Island pier welcomed about 300,000 visitors, according to Eric Brown, the pier’s general manager. About 40% of them were anglers and all that fishing activity can leave lots of lines, lures, hooks and weights attached to the pilings that support the 1,240ft structure.
“We clean up the upper part of the pier pretty well,” Brown said. “But we don’t have the manpower to get in there and dive in there.”
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Several years ago, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park began working with the pier to remove fishing lines and other entanglement hazards from the pier’s concrete piles. Since then, the pier cleanup has become a bi-annual event with dives held in the spring and fall.
Saturday’s cleanup was organized by the pier, the Gulfarium, local nonprofit group Divers Down Pollution Project and the Okaloosa County Coastal Resources Team. Volunteer divers came from as far away as DeFuniak Springs and Mobile, Alabama.
“It’s huge,” Okaloosa County Coastal Resources Manager Alex Fogg said of Saturday’s volunteer turnout. “The most divers we had in the past was 28.”
Spending 30 minutes to an hour in about 25 feet of water, divers removed about 200 pounds of debris, bringing it to shore themselves or sending it in bags to volunteers on the jetty deck.
“It’s really not a lot of heavy stuff,” said Thomas Larrison, president and founder of the Divers Down Pollution Project. “It’s mostly monofilament wrapped around the pilings; you have to cut it.”
But while the amount of debris collected may seem small, Larrison said eliminating those entanglement hazards had a big impact on the marine life around the pier.
“These pilings are like natural reefs,” Larrison said. “They have oysters growing on them and that attracts other marine species as well.”
Indeed, last month Gulfarium and pier staff rescued a 217 pound female loggerhead sea turtle who was found near the pier entangled in 5.5 pounds of fishing gear and dragging two fishing rods behind her.
After Saturday’s cleanup, that probably won’t happen again anytime soon.
“This is the first time I can say we’ve taken everything off the pier,” said Fogg, coastal resources manager. “It will be interesting to see what it looks like in the spring.”