Pro­tect­ing Hawaii’s pre­cious reefs from an­chors and more

Scuba Diving - - ASCEND -

Jeff and Teri Le­icher share a de­sire to make the world a bet­ter place by do­ing what you can, where you can. The cou­ple, who owns Jack’s Div­ing Locker on the Big Is­land of Hawaii, have been in­stru­men­tal in es­tab­lish­ing moor­ing buoys through­out the state that pro­tect Hawaii’s co­ral from boat-an­chor strikes. Whether lob­by­ing gov­ern­ments for per­mis­sion, rais­ing funds or head­ing un­der­wa­ter with a jack­ham­mer, the Le­ich­ers don’t shrink from get­ting their hands wet in any way that will solve the prob­lem.

Tell us about the ori­gins of Hawaii’s day-use moor­ing buoys.

Jeff Le­icher: Teri and I moved from Oahu to Kona in 1982 and im­me­di­ately no­ticed how much health­ier the reefs were com­pared with the more heav­ily used reefs on Oahu. Although there were only about three small dive com­pa­nies us­ing the Kona sites, it was ob­vi­ous this was go­ing to grow. We asked Teri’s father, Ge­orge A. Wilkins, what it would take — legally and tech­ni­cally — to in­stall moor­ings. Ge­orge was a marine sci­en­tist with the Univer­sity of Hawaii De­part­ment of Geo­physics, and he knew of a method of drilling into the seafloor and ce­ment­ing per­ma­nent an­chors. Part­ner­ing with the univer­sity and the state, we be­gan work­ing on get­ting per­mits to al­low us to in­stall the first 46 buoys along the Kona coast. Teri Le­icher: The moor­ings have been hugely suc­cess­ful, and the pro­gram has since ex­panded to in­clude well over 200 dive sites statewide.

What’s been the great­est chal­lenge?

JL: Although the state be­lieves in pro­tect­ing co­ral reefs, the rules and laws that per­tain to legally in­stalling a moor­ing are a bureau­cratic night­mare. It can take three to 10 years to ob­tain a per­mit. TL: Since 1986, I have been a li­ai­son be­tween Malama Kai Foun­da­tion and Hawaii’s De­part­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources. [Cre­ated to sup­port the moor­ing project, MKF raises funds and im­ple­ments projects to con­serve Hawaii’s marine re­sources.] This in­volves leg­is­lat­ing for fund­ing, trav­el­ing statewide for hear­ings, and help­ing to push pa­per­work through state and fed­eral agen­cies. Many dive and snorkel op­er­a­tors, as well as is­land res­i­dents and vis­i­tors, have come to­gether statewide to sup­port day-use moor­ings. It is frus­trat­ing that the process takes so long, but the re­ward makes it worth­while. It re­ally does take a vil­lage to make a moor­ing hap­pen.

What’s your big­gest chal­lenge?

JL: Fund­ing. Each moor­ing in­stal­la­tion costs around $1,500 just in hard­ware,

even with the work done by vol­un­teers. Then there’s the enor­mous task of main­tain­ing moor­ings so they’re safe. Most of the money has come from do­na­tions by gen­er­ous vis­it­ing divers. We hope and be­lieve that the state will be­gin to es­tab­lish car­ry­ing ca­pac­i­ties for our un­der­wa­ter re­sources, limit use by grant­ing (or with­hold­ing) per­mits, and pro­vide suf­fi­cient moor­ings and main­te­nance to ac­com­mo­date those users with­out the need for drop­ping an­chors. Co­ral has enough threats to worry about — cli­mate change, sun­screen, etc. — with­out hav­ing to sur­vive a care­lessly thrown an­chor.

And your most sat­is­fy­ing mo­ment?

JL: In the early days, while await­ing a per­mit, we drilled 92 holes af­ter re­ceiv­ing a ver­bal go-ahead. (Les­son: Get ev­ery­thing in writ­ing.) We were threat­ened with a $92,000 fine and po­ten­tial jail time. At a pub­lic hear­ing be­fore the state land board, Jerry Gar­cia — a diver, great friend and leader of the Grate­ful Dead — tes­ti­fied as a “typ­i­cal div­ing tourist” and en­cour­aged the state to “make your­selves look good and ap­prove this thing.” The news cam­eras were rolling, and within a few days, we had our per­mit. At the same hear­ing, the head of the state DLNR of­fered to pay the fine if one was as­sessed, and a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive claimed she had drilled the holes, since she was im­mune from pros­e­cu­tion. We left the hear­ing with a huge bur­den lifted. Jeff Le­icher works an un­der­wa­ter drill in prepa­ra­tion for in­stalling a moor­ing buoy on the Kona coast in the late 1980s.

How can divers help?

JL: To learn more about the pro­gram or to make a do­na­tion, visit mala­ Any­one can adopt a buoy.

TL: Pro­tect­ing our en­vi­ron­ment is everyone’s kuleana (or re­spon­si­bil­ity). It’s what we need to do, not only for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions — our own lives are at risk if we don’t start now. No mat­ter where you live, get in­volved with some sort of ini­tia­tive to pro­tect our planet. Start with recycling in your own home, then branch out.

JL: If you are div­ing some­where such as Bon­aire, where a park fee is charged, and that fee goes to pay for moor­ing main­te­nance, pay it hap­pily and proudly. They are pro­tect­ing what you have come to en­joy. Aloha! Each Sea Hero fea­tured in Scuba Div­ing re­ceives a Seiko Prospex Au­to­matic SRPC07 watch worth $525. For our De­cem­ber is­sue, judges select a Sea Hero of the Year, who re­ceives a $5,000 cash award from Seiko to fur­ther his or her work. Nom­i­nate a sea hero at scubadiv­­heroes.

YEAR Jeff, 1973; CER­TI­FIED Teri, 1978 AGE WHEN CER­TI­FIED Jeff, 19; Teri, 22 CER­TI­FI­CA­TION LEVEL Both are PADI MSDT In­struc­tors. WORDS TO LIVE BY “I like to leave a place a lit­tle bet­ter than I found it.”

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