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Divers and volunteers coordinate effort for beach and underwater cleanup

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-02-21

On March 1 and March 8 divers will be volunteering their time to cleanup the ocean bottom, as well as cut fishing line and remove entangled nets from corals at Maeda point and Sunabe. The annual cleanup is planned and sponsored by the Okinawa Safety Diving Council in conjunction with the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club. The event is called "sango no hi" in Japanese, which means "coral day". The day is actually on san gatsu go nichi, which is March 5. The Japanese words of san from san gatsu (third month), and go from go nichi (fifth day), are taken and combined to form sango, which means coral. Thus, the fifth day of the third month has been dubbed "coral day" here on the island. This year the day falls on a weekday, so the cleanup has been scheduled for theprior and following Sundays.

The Okinawa Diving Safety Council has been doing the cleanup for ten years, and the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club joined the effort about five years ago. The day was initiated by concerned divers over the condition of Okinawa's coral reefs, along with a desire to help maintain a clean coastline. The divers help protect coral by cutting away fishing line and other entangled debris, which causes cuts and breaks in the coral. The problem has become so bad in some areas, that it has even become dangerous to humans, causing fatalities in a few cases where divers have been caught in the line and unable to escape. The area off to the left of Maeda point has become so badly covered in fishing line, that it is referred to as "spider web point" by Okinawan divers. Last year, divers pulled out over three large trash bags full of the line, but even this did not put a dent in the total amount still attached to the reef below. Kensuke Yokoi, President of the Okinawa Diving Safety Council, remarked, "There used to be much soft coral at Maeda, but it's all been cut away by fishing line."

Yokoi, who is a respected ecologist and underwater photographer, has been diving for twenty years. He has taken active measures to help promote coral reef protection, including educational seminars that he gives to children. He also attributes development as a major cause to coral destruction. "During the construction of Sunset beach, the water off the coastline near Sunabe became so silted that visibility was cut down to five to six meters. The problem has become better since coastal development in the area has slowed down, but other areas are also suffering. Red soil and silt cause the coral to suffocate and die. It also causes the coral to loose it's protective outer layer of calcium, which releases an odor. This odor can be detected by the crown-of-thorns starfish, and it intensifies it's eating activities. This is now becoming a major problem in Okinawa," explained Yokoi. Divers will also be asked to remove any crown-of thorns starfish they may find. "Although removal is the most effective method, the starfish can be killed by cutting out it's mouth, which is located in it's center," further explained Yokoi.

Corals play an important part in the function of the marine ecosystem. Without them, many of the fish that we enjoy observing when snorkeling and diving would also disappear.

Trash has also become a big problem on Okinawa, both in and out of the water. Sunabe has become littered with cans and bottles from many years of people throwing away their drink containers along the sea wall. Although many cleanups have been already done along the area, there is still much trash that needs to be removed from below the surface of the ocean.

The cleanup efforts along the beaches on "coral day' also hope to promote a better appreciation for nature and the marine environment. The Okinawa Clean Beach Club, which does cleanups every month from March until November, begins their annual "Yuimaru - I Love Okinawa" campaign on "coral day" at Maeda point, and will be out picking up trash along the beaches. They are asking everyone interested to come out and enjoy the day. Trash bags and gloves will be provided, and it is a good way to get involved with the local community.

The cleanup at Maeda point on March 1 begins at 10 am and the Sunabe sea wall cleanup will be held on the following Sunday, March 8 at 10 am. All divers, families, and other volunteers are welcome. For further information you can contact the Okinawa Clean Beach Club at 965-5371.

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