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Local divers pick Okinawa dive spot clean for Earth Day

Volunteer divers search and collect trash from the ocean floor during a cleanup event hosted by Mermaid Island Diving and Project Aware in Chatan, Okinawa, Saturday, April 20, 2019.

COURTESY OF TORI SHARPE

By CARLOS M. VAZQUEZ II | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 22, 2019

CHATAN, Okinawa – Divers collected more than 120 pounds of trash Saturday from the seafloor at Sunabe Seawall South Steps in an early Earth Day celebration

The event, sponsored by the owners and instructors at Mermaid Island Diving and the nonprofit organization Project Aware, drew 72 scuba and snorkeling volunteers for three hours to collect trash from the ocean environment.

Each month, the owners of Mermaid Island Diving, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Scott Dahn and his wife, April Dahn, meet with students and other divers at Sunabe Seawall South Steps, a site they’ve adopted as their own through Project Aware.

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Project Aware has worked with scuba divers for more than 25 years to protect the ocean in their own communities and to supply them with cleanup kits, according to the organization’s website.

The turnout Saturday for the South Steps cleanup was the largest for a one-day event and double the turnout last month, the Dhans said.

The group filled 10 large garbage bags with plastic containers, metal cans, glass bottles and bits of Styrofoam, among other items.

“Our goal is to get as much trash out,” Scott Dahn said. “We’ll sort it down to glass, metal, plastic and burnable, and weigh it, and then we provide the data we collect to Project Aware.”

The Dahns, who train their students at the South Steps, share a concern for the marine life they see there.

“It’s sad when you see fish or turtles with plastic or fishnet around their neck,” Scott Dahn said. “[Through] this type of event as a whole, when the dive and local community come together, we can help prevent that.”

Many of the divers made multiple treks into the water, hauling out trash collected in mesh bags, some finding batteries, cellphones and bicycle parts.

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April Dahn pointed out the hazards that lithium batteries, plastic and fishing lines have for sea life. In her experience diving the world’s oceans in places such as Bali, she’s seen that curtailing ocean pollution is important to maintaining a healthy Earth, she said.

The Dahns said that even while diving for fun, they find themselves cutting away fishing lines and collecting trash at various sites.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Bellotte has been stationed two years with Medical Logistics Company at Camp Kinser, Okinawa, and became a certified diver through Mermaid Island Diving. He volunteers for the cleanup every month.

“It’s a lot of fun and it doesn’t take a whole lot to go out of your way, just a couple kicks and grab a piece of trash,” he said. “We’ve seen quite a bit of trash, especially after the bigger storms, if you go diving right afterwards, a lot of the trash is blown in.”

The amount of trash collected this month fell short of the 350 pounds gathered last month, maybe a sign the group is making a difference in this corner of the East China Sea.

“This is just one site after all, but every little bit counts,” Bellotte said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it wasn’t built with a single person. It took a community, a lot of people and a lot of time, so just like that, it’s going to take a lot of effort to overall make the world a better place.”

vazquez.carlos@stripes.com
Twitter: @StripesCarlos

Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Kelsie Maxwell of Combat Logistics Regiment 35 shows trash collected from the ocean near Chatan, Okinawa, Saturday, April 20, 2019.
COURTESY OF TORI SHARPE

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