A group of Special Tactics operators helped clean the Destin Marina while getting a bit of training last week.
And the result was nearly two tons of garbage hauled out of the Destin habor.
The dive is a regular community service project the Special Tactics Team started about three years ago, said Michael Gray, unit diving officer.
“Boaters were getting tangled (in the debris) and since we train to work in bad conditions, we thought ‘why don’t we help clean it?’” he added.
The Special Tactics operators were all graduates of the Air Force Combat Dive Course. On Wednesday morning, they set out to clean the dock and mooring area located in the middle of the harbor. Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and Emerald Coast Scuba provided assistance.
Gray said the team spent a total of 2,500 minutes underwater recovering trash that amounted to about two tons.
“There were a lot of ropes — hundreds of yards of rope, a microwave oven, a stroller, crab traps, cell phones…it’s a smorgasbord down there,” said Gray.
All of the garbage was hauled to Emerald Coast Scuba dive shop where it could be reported to Project Aware, a nonprofit organization that works with scuba divers to decrease underwater pollution.
Emerald Coast Scuba Manager Mark Griffin said the garbage filled more than two Dumpsters. Looking at the haul can leave an impact.
“Look at the pictures, it’s absolutely incredible,” he said.
The Special Tactics Diving Team uses their training to prepare for search and recovery missions. While last week’s dive was service project, they still enacted the same protocols.
“It’s the same thing as if they were in a plane crash…like any disaster,” said Grey.
Griffin said these regular clean-ups make a big difference. The only problem is — the trash comes back eventually.
“It’s harmful to humans and wildlife,” he said. “It takes 10 years for a cigarette to dissolve…thousands of years for a glass bottle to dissolve. It’s amazing what a stack of garbage will do. How do we want to leave this place for our grandchildren?”
For its part, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has programs to remove derelict boats and crab traps. Wildlife management also works to remove ropes and fishing lines that could affect animals.
When it comes to marine debris, Kent Smith, biological administrator for FWC said one of the bigger issues is plastics.
“Plastics degrade into smaller pieces called microplastics, which can be ingested and prevent wildlife from ingesting their natural food,” Smith explained.
Plastic bags can look like jellyfish underwater and are often ingested by marine life, Smith added.
Smith said everyone can do their part to eliminate waste in the water by properly disposing their garbage, recycling plastics — and if you’re out on the boat, contain your garbage in a bucket or bag to prevent it from blowing away.
“I’m a boater and I’ll go out of my way to pick up a Mylar balloon that’s floating in the water,” he said. “You should make sure to leave places better off than you found them.”