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Diver leads effort to rid Honolulu Harbor of junk

Diver Robin Bond Jr. has seen all kinds of junk at the bottom of Honolulu Harbor. Air conditioners, car batteries, mopeds and bicycles. Even a freezer, a forklift and a handgun.

“It’s a huge underwater dump,” Bond said.

And he’s determined to change that.

The operations manager at Wikoliana Educational Excursions at Pier 7 is spearheading a pilot program to kick off later this month that will salvage decades worth of items dumped in the harbor. Whatever is salvaged will be recycled and proceeds will be donated to schools helping the program, believed to be the first of its kind in Hawai’i.

State officials and businesses are already supporting the program, and Bond hopes that he’ll be able to expand the cleanup along the length of the harbor. He also plans to eventually use one of the vessels being fitted for his company to salvage junk farther out in the harbor.

“There’s definitely an environmental need for us to be proactive,” said Bond.

He said he’s most concerned about the environmental effects of car batteries and other toxic materials.

“If we put something into the harbor, we’re putting it into the ocean,” which means it’s affecting marine life that could end up on dinner plates, Bond said.

The harbor stewardship program is modeled after similar initiatives on the Mainland.

Michael Formby, deputy director of the state Harbors Division, said Bond has been given permission to bring up trash from the harbor. Formby applauded the effort as a unique initiative to clean up the water and raise awareness about keeping the harbor clean.

Formby said trash in the harbor has accumulated “over 40-plus years.”

He said he knows of no previous initiative to bring up the junk — beyond periodic efforts to pick up large materials that have impeded harbor traffic.

“The harbors Division is excited to welcome the Wikoliana … program into Honolulu Harbor,” Formby said.

The first cleanup as part of the program will be on May 19 at Pier 7.

Bond and other divers plan to use floats to bring dumped items on the ocean floor to the surface. Once at the surface, a boom crane will lift the items and put them into a receptacle for recycling.

Bond said he expects to pick up “tons of trash” at Pier 7. In a reconnaissance dive of the area, he found scads of junk — from bicycles to mopeds to batteries.

Chris Woolaway, treasurer of the Hawai’i Ocean Safety Team, which aims to raise environmental awareness about the state’s waters, said she hopes the stewardship program educates people on the state of Honolulu Harbor and what needs to be done to clean it up.

“People don’t recognize it’s as big a problem as it is,” she said.

Officials aren’t certain how so much junk ended up on the floor of the harbor. And the state said it doesn’t have a grasp on just how much is down there.

The assumption is that much of the trash was dumped from piers, but some of it also appears to have fallen or been dumped off boats. And Woolaway said some of the trash also came from upstream during heavy rains. “There’s a lot of inputs,” she said.

Formby said there does not appear to be a rampant illegal dumping problem at Honolulu Harbor, but he did say dumping does occur and likely was more of a problem in the past. Some of the harbor is open to the public, while other parts of it are open to only specific users.

Bond said some of the dumped items he has seen on the harbor bottom appear to have gotten down there fairly recently, but a lot of them seemed to have spent years in the water. Among the things he found was a handgun, covered in silt.

“It’s a location of opportunity for people to dump,” Bond said.

After bringing up items from around Pier 7, Bond plans to concentrate on the waters fronting Aloha Tower. He said he aims to move on to another pier by June or July – depending on how much help he has.

Bond and the company he works for, Wikoliana Educational Excursions, are paying for the stewardship program. Wikoliana, based at Pier 7, is a fledgling business that plans to take groups out into the harbor for educational tours starting this summer.

Bond said he is looking into getting grants to cover some costs and also needs volunteers.

Schnitzer Steel has donated the use of a roll-off to hold junk brought up from the harbor. Schnitzer will also recycle the items, and Bond said he hopes to get schoolkids involved in part of the process, including cataloguing what’s brought up from the water.

Bond got the idea to start the harbor stewardship program several months ago, after realizing that the trash in Honolulu Harbor was not getting cleaned up by anyone else. He said as one of the largest harbors in the United States, Honolulu Harbor is long overdue for a cleanup.

“It’s a big harbor,” he said. “We’re certainly not protecting it as well as we should.”

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