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89 divers collect 93-pounds of debris at Spring Pier Cleanup on Okaloosa Island

On Sunday, May 5, 2024, Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism, the Okaloosa Island Pier, and the Gulfarium hosted the annual Spring Pier Cleanup on Okaloosa Island, resulting in 89 scuba divers […]

Source: Alex Fogg

On Sunday, May 5, 2024, Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism, the Okaloosa Island Pier, and the Gulfarium hosted the annual Spring Pier Cleanup on Okaloosa Island, resulting in 89 scuba divers removing 93 pounds of debris from the pier pilings and seafloor.

The cleanup, a collaborative effort between the three organizations, is held twice a year—once in the spring and once in the fall. Divers spent the morning removing various items, including fishing line, lures, fishing rods, bait knives, and even a boat toilet. 

  • Despite the amount of debris collected, divers reported that the area was relatively clean compared to previous cleanups.

Jessica Valek, a Coastal Resources Coordinator for Okaloosa County, stated, “There’s always going to be trash that’s collecting underneath the pier, but I definitely think hosting these cleanups twice a year is helping maintain that cleanliness and removing debris from the pilings.”

Source: Alex Fogg

This year, the cleanup organizers introduced a new tool to make the process more efficient. In past cleanups, divers were provided with mesh bags to place the trash and debris inside. However, this year, divers were given cleanup-specific containers from Zookeeper. 

Zookeeper is a well-known brand in the lionfish hunting community, primarily recognized for their specialized containers designed to safely store captured lionfish. Recently, the company has expanded to include marine cleanup efforts by modifying their containers to better accommodate the collection of trash and debris by divers. 

  • These cleanup-specific Zookeeper containers feature a different funnel design that prevents hooks and other sharp objects from getting caught, making the process of collecting and sorting debris more efficient and less time-consuming compared to the previously used mesh bags.
Source: Jessica Valek

The removal of fishing line and other debris is particularly important during sea turtle nesting season, as turtles are hanging out closer to shore and can become entangled in the line, preventing them from surfacing, swimming, or feeding properly. “We are definitely making it a safer place for our turtles to hang out,” Valek added.

The cleanup events continue to grow in popularity, with volunteers coming from all over the area to participate. 

  • “These pier cleanups just get bigger and bigger every time we do them,” Valek said. “I love that people are taking time out of their mornings to give back. We know the conditions aren’t always perfect, but it doesn’t seem to matter to our divers. They get in the water, they clean up trash, and they come out with a big smile on their face.”

Pier Manager Eric Brown expressed his gratitude to the divers, stating, “We are so glad we are able to offer these events for the dive community. Not only is it a great opportunity to dive the pier, which is typically prohibited, but it gives us the chance to clean things up and also contribute to various avenues of conservation research.”

The fall cleanup has already been scheduled for August 4, 2024, and organizers hope to see an even greater turnout of volunteers dedicated to maintaining the cleanliness and safety of the marine environment surrounding the Okaloosa Island Pier.

Source: Alex Fogg
Source: Jessica Valek
Source: Jessica Valek

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