When he returned, wounded, from serving in Vietnam, doctors told Don Voss he wouldn't walk again. But Voss, now a 64-year-old ship captain, turned to swimming as therapy. With more than 14,000 scuba dives under his belt, he walks just fine, thanks. He also heads an organization that has collected more than 300,000 pounds of debris from the inlets along Florida's central eastern coast. This work has earned Voss an Ocean Hero award from the ocean conservation group Oceana.
After an early retirement from instructing, Voss began filming debris in the Sebastian Inlet State Park. What he witnessed inspired him to begin removing the debris and, eventually, he found it impossible to dive without doing so. In 2009, Voss and others formed Marine Cleanup Initiative, Inc. as a non-profit whose mission is to work with volunteers to collect debris such as fishing line, nets, lures, anchors, litter and building material that covers much of the inlets along the coast.
Voss now trains and organizes volunteers to collect garbage in four inlets and four counties, along more than 90 miles of the Indian River Lagoon Estuary. This area is unique in that it ends up collecting not only the shore-based litter and cast-off gear of irresponsible fishermen, but also much of the wreckage that hurricanes leave behind.
"The inlets are where people like to fish, so we see a lot of fish line, nets and lead weights there. We lost 200 boats after the 2004 hurricane. Where do you think those end up?" he asks.