Scuba divers plan underwater cleanup around Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier for Sunday

Devon Ravine
Northwest Florida Daily News
Divers collect fishing tackle and other debris from around the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier during a cleanup last month. On Sunday, more than 50 divers are expected to perform another underwater cleanup around the pier.

OKALOOSA ISLAND — More than 50 divers from across the region are expected to put their scuba skills to use Sunday to removing monofilament, fishing tackle and other debris from the underwater areas surrounding the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier.

The pier is partnering with the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center, Angler’s Beachside Bar and Grill, and Okaloosa County’s Tourist Development Department for the cleanup.

Divers will meet at 6 a.m. at the check-in station in the parking lot of Angler’s and enter the water to begin cleaning at 7 a.m. Divers must be certified, have their own gear and air tanks and will need to sign a release form to participate.

The pier will be closed to fishing until noon for safety reasons, although walkers will be allowed on the pier.

Divers collected fishing tackle and other debris from around the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier last month. A similar cleanup is scheduled for Sunday.

Divers who participated in a similar volunteer cleanup early last month started at the end of the pier and were able to clear about 20% to 30% of the area and netted about 400 pounds of debris.

Pier General Manager Eric Brown said the majority of that debris was “bundles of monofilament that looked like tumbleweeds.” Brown said divers also found a fair amount of lead weights, fishing tackle, rods and reels and even a small urn.

Brown said he expects Sunday’s dive to be an even larger event.

More:Volunteer divers clean debris from Okaloosa Island Fishing pier in August

More:Erase The Trace Okaloosa adds borrow bin and trash pickup station near Okaloosa Island pier

More:Watch: 65-foot catamaran becomes newest artificial reef in Gulf off Destin

“Were going to focus on the entire pier,” Brown said. “It’s going to be monumental. This is the first time we’ve had the manpower and weather to do it.”

Sunday’s event also will include activities for non-divers.

Erase the Trace Okaloosa will organize a beach cleanup around the pier and The Boardwalk from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. From 9:30 a.m. to noon, Dan Anderson from Dan In The Sand and the Sandcastle Rockstars will offer free sand castle lessons.

Additionally, representatives from several organizations — including the Gulfarium, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — will be on hand to talk to visitors about the local environment and how to keep it healthy and clean.

Fish swarm around one of the pilings under the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier during an underwater cleanup last month. More than 50 divers are expected to participate in a similar cleanup Sunday morning.

At noon, Angler’s will host an afterparty with live music and food and drink specials for the volunteers, and Destin Brewery will donate beverages for the volunteers.

Alex Fogg, coastal resource manager with the Tourist Development Department, said the county is monitoring the recent red tide algae bloom discovered about 11 miles to the east near James Lee Park in Destin. Fogg said the staff will take water samples off Destin and Okaloosa Island during the next few days to assess whether or not the algae is present in the water near the pier and alert divers if that is the case.

“You’re certainly able to dive or swim in water with red tide,” Fogg said. “But if you’re sensitive to algae or have respiratory problems, you’ll probably want to avoid it.”

Fogg said with this many divers signed up, he hopes they will be able to clean the entire pier area Sunday, adding that “the weather looks absolutely perfect.”