A crew of 16 volunteers dove at Coki Beach on Saturday. Their goal – to remove debris from the ocean. Covering a quarter mile, they retrieved 601 pounds of rubbish.
The volunteers were led by Howard Forbes Jr., the coordinator for the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service. He organized the cleanup with the help of DPNR funding, equipment from the Coki Dive Center and volunteers from Coral World Ocean Park.
Their haul included 11 lawn chairs, seven pieces of galvanized roofing, one marble countertop, 13 pieces of fiberglass, four large pieces of construction wood, a kayak paddle and 20 pounds of smaller debris such as glass bottles, beverage cans and food wrappers.
After the cleanup Forbes said the experience was rewarding.
“Overall I think it was really great. I know there is a lot of debris elsewhere that needs to be removed, but this is a good starting point to kind of incentivize others to follow.”
The group utilized lift bags to help with heavy material. A non-inflated lift bag was attached to the item being removed, then inflated with air from a diver’s scuba tank. The air gave the bag the buoyancy needed to help lift heavy items from the seafloor to the surface.
The whole process from loading the boat for the first dive to getting the debris to the landfill took about four hours.
Data collection is important for all cleanups, as it is a key factor that leads to actual change. Forbes contributed a piece for the Source earlier this month on the topic of data collection.
Forbes acquired funding after hearing there was money available for hurricane removal debris projects, and he put together a proposal for the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources. He formed a plan for the Coki area because he’s done cleanups in the area before and knew it still needed to be addressed.
He wanted to keep the cleanup group small, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Forbes did not put out a call for volunteers. He specifically asked people he knew who were certified divers and would be passionate about helping the cause.
He said he wants to do similar cleanups in different areas and plans to clean ocean debris from the lagoon behind the Marine Science Center at UVI before July 30. That area still has damaged boats and pieces of the Marine Science Center roof.
After the 2017 hurricanes, federal funds were available for boat removal, but they came with specific guidelines about the boat’s size and whether there was proof it had moved during the storms. This left some damaged boats unaddressed and still in need of removal.
Readers who know of other beaches that have underwater debris from the hurricanes can alert VIMAS, by sending an email to Forbes at [email protected] He will use the information to build a list of areas that need to be addressed and considered for funding for future cleanups.