More than 100 scuba divers give Okaloosa Island Pier an underwater deep cleaning

Devon Ravine
Northwest Florida Daily News

More than 100 scuba divers turned out Saturday morning to help clean up fishing tackle and other debris from the pilings of the Okaloosa Island Pier and the surrounding area.

Last year, the Okaloosa Island Pier had about 300,000 visitors, according to Eric Brown, the pier's general manager. About 40% of those were anglers and all that fishing activity can leave a lot of line, lures, hooks and weights attached to the pilings that support the 1,240-foot structure.

"We clean the top part of the pier pretty good," said Brown. "But we don't have the manpower to get under there and dive it."

2021 cleanup:Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier cleanup nets nearly 300 pounds of debris

New Brooks Bridge:Tropical Waves, Waffle House buildings demolished

Bobby Wagner with the Divers Down Pollution Project removes fishing line from one of the concrete support pilings of the Okaloosa Fishing Pier Saturday morning. Wagner was among about 100 volunteer divers who collected 200 pounds of fishing line

Several years ago, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park began working with the pier to remove fishing line and other entanglement hazards from the pier's concrete pilings. Since then, the pier cleanup has grown into a semi-annual event with organized dives held in the spring and fall.

Saturday's cleanup was organized by the pier, the Gulfarium, the local nonprofit group Divers Down Pollution Project and Okaloosa County's Coastal Resources Team. Volunteer divers came from as far away as DeFuniak Springs and Mobile, Alabama.

"It's huge," Okaloosa County Coastal Resources Manager Alex Fogg said of Saturday's volunteer turnout. "The most divers we've had in the past was 28."

Spending anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour in approximately 25 feet of water, scuba divers removed about 200 pounds of debris, carrying it back to the shoreline themselves or sending it up in bags to volunteers on the pier deck.

"It's really not a lot of heavy stuff," said Thomas Larrison, president and founder of the Divers Down Pollution Project. "It's mostly monofilament wrapped around the pilings; you have to cut it back."

About 100 volunteer divers spent Saturday morning removing 200 pounds of fishing line and tackle from the pilings of the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier.

But while the amount of debris collected may seem small, Larrison said that removing those entanglement hazards has a big impact on the sea life around the pier.

"Those pilings are like natural reefs," said Larrison. "They've got oysters growing on them and that attracts other marine life as well."

Indeed, just last month, Gulfarium and pier staff rescued a 217-pound female loggerhead sea turtle that was found near the pier entangled in 5.5 pounds of fishing tackle and dragging two fishing rods behind her.

After Saturday's cleanup, that likely won't be happening again anytime soon.

"This is the first time that I can say we removed everything from the pier," said Coastal Resources Manager Fogg. "It will be interesting to see what it looks like in the spring."