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Americans and Okinawans gather to clean beaches

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-09-25

Last weekend saw thousands of volunteers span out across the island to clean Okinawa's beaches and collect data for this year's "Okinawa Cleanup Yuimaru." The annual event is coordinated by the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club (OICBC) and has taken place here on the island since 1993.

One of the largest turnouts of volunteers occurred at Senaga Island in Tomigusuku, where both the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military combined their strength to collect well over five tons of trash from around the small island. Tohru Maeda, a master sergeant for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force who has been organizing the Senaga Island cleanup for the past several years, told the Japan Update that a total of 800 U.S. military personnel and JSDF members showed up for the effort. Company employees from Duskin and JAL, together with Japanese Boy Scouts and local volunteers, combined to form another group of 100 persons, bringing the total number of volunteers at Senaga Island to approximately 900.

"There was a large amount of trash again this year," commented Maeda. "The amount of old tires thrown away is increasing every year." Maeda also mentioned that the number of discarded tires leads him to believe that much of it is being illegally dumped by auto related companies.

At the Sunabe sea wall, Japanese and American PADI divers scoured the ocean floor for debris, while locals and foreigners crawled in between sea jacks to hall out everything from broken glass to car parts. A few divers went back in the water twice to collect more refuse, and by days end, close to 800 volunteers participated in the Sunabe portion of the prefecture-wide cleanup.

Both PADI Japan and MCCS American PADI coordinators handed volunteers certificates of appreciation from the PADI Project Aware program and provided free giveaways for everyone. "I think it was a great success. We enjoy working with Japan PADI and will be continuing this year after year," said Mark Fisher, MCCS SCUBA Program Manager.

Although locals have complained for many years over the misuse of the sea wall, which has lead to an increase of trash, many commented that they were happy to see so many people on hand to help clean up the area. "I participated here last year too. It's nice to know that there are so many other people who do want to help," said one Okinawan woman.

Over on the east coast, 100 marines from Camp Schwab volunteered together with local citizens from Henoko, and were thanked personally by the mayor himself.

Students were also involved at many of the other beach cleanup sites around the island. Kadena High School kids and ROTC students came out in force to clean the coastline near Cape Zampa. The Yomitan Town Government thanked the children by providing them with a free Okinawan style beef stew and drinks. On Saturday, members of the girls softball team from Gushikawa Junior High School took taxis on their own to get to Uken Beach, where they planned their own cleanup.

Many other smaller beach cleanups took place from north to south, involving companies, organizations, and families. The weekend beach cleanups here on the island were also part of a world-wide effort known as the International Coastal Cleanup, which was started by the Center for Marine Conservation in 1989. Okinawa joined over 80 other countries in cleaning up the world's coastlines by coordinating the event here.

"Now is the time to start planning for next year's 'I Love Okinawa Campaign' Summit 2000. We hope to work more closely with the U.S. Forces Japan and the international community in an expanded effort that will include tree planting and special events," said OICBC President Edo Heinrich-Sanchez.

At almost all the locations important data was recorded, which will be compiled by the Okinawa International Clean Beach Cub/O.C.E.A.N. and published in their yearly coastal cleanup report. The data will be used to help find solutions to the growing problem of marine debris, and the completed report will be sent to all levels of the Okinawan government. Okinawa's data will eventually make its way to the Center for Marine Conservation, where it will be put together with data taken by hundreds of thousands of other volunteers from around the world, before being presented to the United Nations.

The Okinawa International Clean Beach Club would like everyone to know that cleanups will be taking place until the end of October and anyone wishing to participate by planning their own cleanup can still call for support and data cards at 965-5371. (Please fax or leave a message.)

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