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Rough seas halt divers, but beaches get cleaned on Coral Day

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-20

Okinawans, Americans, and mainland Japanese all gathered on a cold windy morning with one goal in mind - to pick up trash. The day was sango no hi (coral day), March 1, and over 100 volunteers came to Maeda Cape to give their time and support to the annual cleanup. The volunteers combed the area surrounding the scenic lookout and also picked up trash along three small beaches located near the cape. A stereo, a television set, and many car tires were some of the bigger items that were hauled off the beach, but the majority of trash was made up of cans, bottles, styrofoam, and plastics. By the time they were finished, over a half a ton of garbage was removed from the area.

Participants ranged in age from toddlers to grandfathers and grandmothers. About 15 local children from Maeda pitched in, along with many other children from different areas, including many American kids. Some volunteers gave extra support by bringing drinks and food, helping to make the day both enjoyable and successful.

The event was organized by the Okinawa Diving Safety Council, in association with the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club, and MWR PADI divers. The cleanup was originally planned to take place both on land and under the water. About 50 Japanese and American divers came out in full cooperation ready to remove trash from the sea bottom, cut away fishing line attached to coral, and also remove any crown-of-thorns starfish they encountered. However, rough sea conditions prevented them from entering the ocean, so they helped other volunteers clean the coastline instead.

Akinori Anno and Rich Ruth organized the divers for the cleanup, and both expressed their delight over the high turnout. Anno, who has been on Okinawa for over ten years as a dive instructor, also showed his concern over the conditions of Okinawa's beaches and coral reefs. "Many people still think that the ocean is just a garbage dump. Corals are getting weaker, and the problem of red soil erosion continues," said Anno. As Chubu President of the Okinawa Diving Safety Council, Anno tries to educate children on the problem of marine pollution. Every year, he and other divers hold free snorkeling classes for kids, where they take the opportunity to teach students about the problem of marine debris.

Ruth, who has also been on Okinawa for over ten years, believes that there has been great strides forward in fighting the problem of marine debris. "The problem seems to be getting better with the campaign to educate and a lot of pro-action to keep the beaches cleaner," said Ruth. The licensed dive instructor also took part in the 1997 International Coastal Cleanup, as the underwater area coordinator at the Sunabe sea wall. "We also tell our divers to not only come out to the big cleanups, but to also pick up whatever trash they can every time they dive. We all know the problem exists, and it's up to us to change it," further explained Ruth.

Other volunteers seemed to enjoy the day, and all felt the event was very gratifying. "I like to come out with my kids and help out in community events like this one. Everyone cooperates and it really makes you feel good when you see the beach get cleaned," said one American volunteer.

The beach cleanup was the first of the year for the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club, who will continue their cleanup campaign every third Sunday of the month all around Okinawa. The volunteer group used last Sunday's occasion to also hand out awards and the data results from the 1997 International Coastal Cleanup at a barbecue party afterwards. The Coconut Moon beach bar helped the organization by lending them the space to hold the small awards ceremony.

Anyone interested in participating in future cleanups can look forward to the "Sunabe Underwater Cleanup" on March 8 and the Okinawa Clean Beach Club "Kuraha" beach cleanup on March 15. For further information call 965-5371.

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