Island School divers clean Ahukini Bay

AHUKINI — The water was like glass.

There weren’t any of the normal, pounding, winter waves breaking across the jetty.

It was a perfect day as a turtle lazed in the calm waters of Ahukini Bay.

This was the setting for four students and four adults from the Island School Dive Club who entered the serene and azure waters of Ahukini in an attempt at cleaning marine debris from coral heads.

Greg Winston, one of the adult leaders for the dive, said that the school students are currently on their winter break, and because of the ideal conditions in the bay, thought they would take advantage of the clear conditions to clear some of the ‘opala (trash) from the bay’s bottom.

Jeff Brock, the science teacher for Island School, was one of the certified divers who accompanied the students on this outing. Unfortunately, the winter break also drew a lot of students to O’ahu for the holidays, Brock said. “More (students) wanted to come, but already had travel plans,” he said.

Winston noted that most of the Island School’s middle-school students have been certified as divers.

Brock said at least 30 of the 50 students are now certified divers.

This has opened doors for the diving students, who were recently visited by experts from the University of Hawai’i, who taught the students the proper method of fish-counting in the ocean during a count performed by the students in Koloa, Winston said.

Brock said school leaders received a grant from officials with Project Aware to help them with a coralmonitoring program in waters off Po’ipu.

Additionally, Winston said the students have embarked on a series of fund-raisers that have succeeded to the point where they now own some of their own dive equipment.

For Tuesday’s marine-debris cleanup dive, the students were armed with mesh bags, scissors to cut away fishing line and knives for slashing through some of the larger netting that Winston said is on the bottom of the bay.

While waiting for everyone to show up, Winston and Brock and some of the students scoured some of the shoreline to pick up debris on land.

Alexis Peterson, 10, was the youngest diver participating in Tuesday’s outing, but, Brock said, “She’s one outstanding diver.”

Meanwhile, Weston Robison, a sixth-grader, was wrestling with a tire and rim combination that he found at the water’s edge, and with a lot of effort, managed to wheel it up to the parking lot.

“He’s the most enthusiastic,” Brock pointed out. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he found one in the water and brought it back to land.”

Cassie Winston, the president of both the Island School middle-school student body as well as president of the dive club, was also on hand, but on Tuesday was restricted from diving because she was scheduled to leave for O’ahu that evening.

“You can’t dive for at least 12 hours before you have to ride an airplane,” she explained.

As the students received their final briefing from Winston prior to entering the water, Brock said, “I want the students to do both Koloa and Ahukini. I want them to see the long-term effects of their efforts.”

The students got a first-hand look at why it is important to protect marine resources during the dive yesterday.

Students from the Puhi-based school were to dive to depths of up to 40 feet to scoop up fish nets and lines and debris.

The students used scuba gear, and were accompanied by certified dive instructors, including those from the Hanalei-based Water Sport Adventures, which is owned by Greg Winston, who is a parent of a child attending Island School.

The yearly cleanup, part of an extracurricular activity supported by leaders of the school and Water Sport Adventures this year, encourages students to take care and preserve the environment, Winston told The Garden Island.

The students paired up in teams of two, and went “along the reef wall of the jetty and the bottom of the bay next to the jetty,” Winston said.

Among those accompanying the students was Beth Johnson, a certified diver and a divemaster candidate who works for his company, Winston said.

“The cleanup started six years ago, when my daughter was a third-grader (at the school), and her teacher was Lynda Liesse (a third-grade teacher who introduces diving to students),” Winston told The Garden Island.

Stephanie Ibbs, another teacher, started the program about six year ago. Jeff Brock, a middle-school science teacher and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , now runs the program.

Students participate in the program to fulfill community-service obligations, and to meet graduation requirements, Winston said.

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