KAILUA-KONA — Jim Ward’s hands explored what he couldn’t see underwater on Saturday morning, inch by inch, until he came upon … something.
As though he were reading braille, he let his fingers describe back to him what he was swimming next to, so poor was the visibility beneath the boats at Honokohau Harbor.
Discover something, they did.
“Wait a minute, that’s not coral and that’s not rock,” he said he thought when he came upon his biggest find during the fifth harbor cleanup, sponsored by Jack’s Diving Locker and the nonprofit, Ocean Defenders Alliance.
Nope. It was a rug. Rolled up and tied together like on a store shelf except it was at the bottom the ocean.
Out it came, with great effort. Turns out waterlogged trash is quite heavy.
Over 40 volunteers took part in the quarterly tradition to remove junk from the harbor floor. By midday Saturday, around 3,000 pounds have been removed. Stacked on dryland, it looked every bit a pile more befitting a landfill than the Pacific Ocean.
“This is pretty typical of what we pull out,” said Capt. Kurt Lieber, Ocean Defenders Alliance CEO who started the group in California before it spread a few years ago to Hawaii, where Jack’s Diving Locker partnered with the group for the island-side version.
Their mission is simple: Make our waters healthier. Besides being unsightly, simple objects like PVC plastic submerged pose dangers for the ecosystem on many levels. Should an octopus lay her eggs in the decaying tubes, up to 80 percent of the hatch could be deformed.
The good news is efforts like Saturday’s are catching on locally. More volunteers are taking part each time it comes around, which is once a quarter.
“The word is spreading,” Lieber said, snapping a group picture of his volunteers posing next to their collected pile. “People just want to contribute to doing right to the environment.”
Over the course of the five dives, the groups have hauled out an estimated 14,000 pounds of garbage.
And that pile of trash on Saturday?
Well, tires were common finds, and they usually are. Each tire weighs about 50 pounds, up to 100 when it’s waterlogged and filled with mud, which is why volunteer help on the docks pulling the collected gunk out is just as important as man-hours volunteered under water.
Usually, the garbage is stuff that is common on boats — plastics, jugs, etc.
One recent dive, though, they brought out a computer.
“It amazes me how callous some people can be,” Lieber said.
Callous Saturday’s crew was not, however. Far from it.
Ward, like everyone else there, is an avid diver who wanted to get some ocean time in on his weekend. Instead of doing it for his own pleasure, he thought, he might as well put his leisure time to a better cause.
“I didn’t think I was doing so good,” he said of his two hour dive. “And then I came upon the rug.”