By Captain Donald A. Voss
Operations Director
Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc.

Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc (MCII) was founded some nine years ago to address the repercussions of the disposal of monofilament fishing line, plastics, casting nets, cargo nets, and miscellaneous fishing debris into the Sebastian Inlet. Over the years, this effort has expanded and now encompasses the Fort Pierce inlet as well.

After the hurricanes of 2004 (2) and 2005, this effort has grown out of control. Annual cleanup dives are conducted, each lasting for about one hour, but are barely sufficient to remove a year’s debris, let alone the burden added by three hurricanes

MCII collects data and GPS pings for debris areas radioed into the Fish and Wildlife Commission by local fisherpersons. Amounts collected increase each year with the addition of more boaters and divers who are enthusiastic about improving the environment. Still, we are only denting the surface.

It is for this reason that the Board of Directors and the Operations Officer took on the giant task of writing and submitting an application for funding to the NOAA and have applied for a Marine Cleanup and Restoration of Habitat Grant, which the NOAA offered last October. As our cleanup season approaches, it is with great pride that we announce that MCII is one of eight finalists for funding from a class of nearly 200. The competition was fierce and all projects were equally important and deserving of funding.

Reasons given for funding included:
• An established record of collection
• Gravity of need for the input of resources for a massive collection
• Established grant administration personnel

It was also noted that this area is a prime hatching area for several species of turtles. And, although many people disbelieve the concept that monofilament fishing line is a problem, one only needs to read the article Entangled Whale Seen Offshore in the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspaper, Section B, Page 1 on March 20, 2010. Or visit the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach to recognize that there is a real problem and it is up to all of us to address it and help where we can.

And, how could we help? Although this Restoration Grant will bring many thousands of dollars into this area, matching funds are needed to make this project a complete success. Cash and in-kind donations are greatly needed to help pay for commercial divers to remove larger items, fuel for volunteer boat owners, and money to produce public service announcements and other educational presentations to further the cause and to educate youngsters.

MCII certainly understands that times are hard and there is not a lot of spare money to be had and we continue to search for funding sources and sponsors. Project T-shirts are being designed and will be offered for sale to help offset some expenses.

MCII will be working hard to prepare for this 24-month project, but will continue to operate the annual inlet dives using the great base of volunteer boaters, deck hands, spotters and divers and will continue to coordinate these dives with their partners. These dives will serve as annual maintenance after commercial divers remove the heavier objects, under the NOAA grant.

The Grant funds inlet cleanup from Sebastian to Fort Pierce, cleanup of abandoned crab traps along the 96 square miles of the Indian River Lagoon, the fishing catwalks along the bridges in this same area, the L-dock at Sebastian Inlet, three fishing docks in the Fort Pierce Turning Basin area, the former site of City Marina’s floating dock system, and Faber Cove. This project will last until finished, or until May 31, 2012, whichever comes first. The City of Fort Pierce will partner with this project and offer an office, docks, storage, a debris separation site and trucks to remove what cannot be reused for proper disposal. The Sea Grant Program will remove the plastics and fishing line, recycle it, and use any proceeds to fund their projects. Dive Odyssea in Fort Pierce and Deep Six in Vero will provide air and supplies for the divers as the project moves between the two areas.

A Marine Cleanup Specialist Diver Certification Program is being developed in partnership with Dive Odyssea and MCII and, once completed, will be sent for approval to a professional diving organization such as PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors). Once approved, the course will be offered to train divers throughout the country and will set nationwide standards for the industry to protect divers, boaters, aquatic life and the habitat.

Interested sponsors, volunteers, professional and commercial divers, and other interested parties may contact MCII here. Let’s all Dive In and Cleanup.