Each October, volunteer boat captains and their crews coordinated by Audubon’s Florida’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, Tampa Bay Watch, and Sarasota Bay Watch visit bird nesting islands and foraging habitats in west central Florida’s estuaries, lakes, and rivers to remove fishing line and other trash that pose an entanglement threat to birds and other wildlife.
A Saturday in October with a high tide is chosen because this is the only time of the year when almost no birds are nesting on the bird colony sites in this region of Florida. That means that volunteers can remove the deadly line, balloon ribbon, lures, and other fishing gear snagged in mangrove trees and saltmarsh habitats without endangering chicks or eggs in the nest or frightening fledgling birds. The higher tides allow boat captains to safely approach islands surrounded by shallow water, seagrass and mudflats, and oysterbeds.
Fishing line is hard to spot, entangled in the mangroves or washed up on marsh and beach shorelines, but it is a clear hazard to wading birds. Nesting pelicans and wading birds sometimes even deliberately collect it, mistaking it for the softer grass materials that they use to line their nests. Once a leg or wing is entangled in the line, it becomes a remorseless killer. A single long line stretching across a bird island can persist for years, entangling many birds.
Audubon and Tampa Bay Watch began the fishing line cleanup in 1993 after a sobering survey at Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay, where staff found over 50 dead birds snared in line. Sarasota Bay Watch, a newly formed group, has been a fishing line cleanup partner with Audubon for six years.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists report that entanglement in fishing gear is the primary cause of mortality of Brown Pelicans, killing adults as well as young, inexperienced birds. Of course, other birds and wildlife as dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and otters also fall prey to this insidious, invisible killer.
Pre-registration ensures that captains and their crews have permission for this once-a-year event from landowners and managers to otherwise restricted bird nesting sites. Audubon and the Bay Watch groups have coordinated this activity with park, refuge, and wildlife area managers and receive their full support and participation.
An important component of the fishing line cleanup has been the outreach to fishermen. Newspaper and other media coverage have helped spread awareness of the need for fishermen to properly dispose of line and other fishing gear.
For Tampa Bay:
BOATERS: Tampa Bay Watch, in partnership with Audubon Florida, is recruiting shallow-draft volunteer boaters to clean Tampa Bay’s colonial bird nesting islands and shorelines on Saturday, September 27. Contact Anne Dowling, 727.867.8166 or firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.tampabaywatch.org
For Sarasota Bay:
Join the Sarasota Bay Watch Seventh Annual Monofilament Cleanup on Saturday October 4th at 8:30. We meet at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, which generously hosts the event with lunch provided to volunteers. To register, contact http://sarasotabaywatch.org/.