By Founder and President Kurt Lieber
I’m sitting in my hotel room in Kona, Hawai’i, reflecting on my three weeks in these islands of paradise. The event I’m about to share with you completes ODA’s task of organizing three underwater cleanups in three weekends. Mission accomplished!
On Saturday, May 29th, we did an underwater cleanup with our partners Kohala Divers on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Rebekah and Greg Kaufmann own and run the dive shop. They have a great new dive boat at our disposal when the time comes to do an offshore cleanup.
But this day we didn’t need a boat as we were doing a beach-based dive in the waters just outside of Kawaihae Harbor. We’ve done two underwater cleanups inside the harbor, but this time Rebekah and I thought that because it’s been a couple of years since we worked this area outside the harbor, there would most likely be a lot of fishing lines along the breakwall that protects the harbor from the large winter storm waves.
We met in the parking lot at the south side of the harbor and gathered under a tree that provided shade from the blazing sun. I gave a short talk about ODA’s four-year history doing these cleanups with Kohala Divers, and then Rebekah took over and talked about the specifics of what the divers could expect to find. We both talked about how to safely remove fishing lines from the fragile corals that dominate this area.
Most of the divers had already done at least one cleanup with us before, and for a few this was their first time. One young lady, Kiana Kaufmann, has participated in every cleanup dive we have done here, but she did it while snorkeling as she was too young for scuba.
She got certified since the last time I saw her, and she proudly donned her scuba gear and was the first to enter the water. What a GREAT sight to see!
In addition to Kiana, the crew this day consisted of: Carl Cooper, Kay Cooper, Keny Edwards, Garth Edwards, Cecilia Flores, Kathleen Gorman, Tara Gorman, Todd Hackett, James Kregness, Jacques Delorme, Karie Wakat, Marty Wakat, and Lori Walsh. There are a few names that I didn’t get, but I did count 17 people in all. [If you participated at this event and your name isn’t listed, please email us at and we’ll update this article!]
Dive conditions were… well, what can you say about Hawai’i? Outstanding? Superb? Gorgeous? Beachin’? They all apply. With the water temp at a balmy 78 degrees, it made for ideal conditions not only to cleanup the area but take time to enjoy some of the critters that call this reef home.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get any underwater shots to be able to show you…It is a great bonus for the divers who come out to give back to the ocean they love; they get to see the underwater beauty that they’re working to help!
Because this area was so shallow, average of 15 feet, the divers were down well over an hour. When they returned to the step ladder, a few of us helped them ease out of the water by grabbing mesh bags and their fins, weights, tanks, and BCs (buoyancy compensators).
As all the divers were getting their gear back into their cars, the support crew started sifting through all the items that were in the mesh bags. First, they were looking for any animals that might have come up with the debris.
Carl was focused on making sure no octopus were in any of the cans or bottles. He did an outstanding job, as he found two octos and one crab that were rushed back to the sea and will live to see another, healthier day. Good work, Carl – our EMT of the sea!
What was most remarkable about all the debris that came up, was the number of golf balls and the amount of fishing hooks. While I didn’t count them, I estimate that there were over 70 hooks!
Todd was underwater for a long time, and his bag was just stuffed with hooks. He then told me why it was so important to him to get those things out. He had been on several dives in this area and recently saw two white tip reef sharks with hooks embedded in their mouths. He had taken video of the encounters and I pulled stills from those videos so you can see how painful that has to be for these animals…and how worthwhile it is for us to pull these hazardous pieces of fishing equipment out!
I estimate that, in all, the debris weighed about 80 pounds, including about 600 feet of fishing line. This might not sound like much when compared to last weekend’s haul of 3,600 pounds but the reality is that fishing lines and hooks hardly weigh anything while the damage they can do is immense.
It was great to spend time afterwards talking with everyone about their experience on this cleanup dive and learn why it meant so much to them. The consensus is that everyone wants to do it again, and Kay wants to take the bull by the horns and start organizing these outings for once a month. Yeah!
Kay is a dive instructor at the Kohala shop. I have a good feeling that Carl is going to follow in her “fin steps.” ;-)
ODA can’t thank everyone enough for taking time out of their busy lives to help make these waters safer for the sharks, turtles, fish, and corals that need all the help we can give them. It's fantastic to see all this junk out of the ocean and on its way to be properly disposed of:
It was a fun day, and an amazing way to end my three-week trip here. Can’t wait for the next marine debris cleanup outing!
Mahalo to all and to our supporters who make all these cleanups happen!