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Beaches, wildlife need your help

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2000


TARPON KEY -- From a distance, it looked like just another plastic grocery bag caught in the mangroves. A closer look, however, revealed a more grisly reality.

The pelican probably picked up the piece of monofilament line from one of the local fishing piers. The line might have been discarded by a careless angler. Or perhaps the pelican grabbed a line and the fisherman didn't go through the trouble of unhooking the bird.

Whichever the case, the result was the same. The bird landed in a tree and the line became tangled around the branch. No one knows how long it took the bird to slowly starve to death. Weeks ... maybe months. All because of a 6-foot piece of fishing line.

Five years ago, a 36-year-old dolphin who was a familiar sight to the anglers who fished off the bridges in Sarasota Bay was found dead, a victim of discarded fishing line.

Hannah usually swam alone, but she was well-known to Mote Marine Laboratory researchers, who had been tracking her since 1976. The same scientists who had studied her for nearly two decades performed the necropsy.

The dolphin had swallowed the sheepshead, complete with hook and line, and the monofilament wrapped in a slip knot around the dolphin's goosebeak, which moves air from the mammal's blowhole to its lungs. As the dolphin swallowed, the knot tightened until she suffocated.

Many anglers wouldn't think twice about a footlong piece of fishing line. It's too small for a leader and it often is discarded on the deck of a boat or floor of a pier. But a footlong piece of fishing line is all it takes to kill a dolphin.

Monofilament fishing line is the No. 1 killer of marine life, and once it gets in the water, it can stay there for 500 years. The only way to get rid of old fishing line is to remove it by hand.

Thousands of volunteers will hit Florida beaches this weekend to pick up fishing line, old nets and other marine debris as the Center for Marine Conservation holds its 15th annual Coastal Cleanup.

Every year, on the third Saturday of September, volunteers, many fishermen and boaters, mobilize along the nation's waterways and beaches to pick up everything from cigarette butts to beer cans. Since 1986, the cleanup has grown from 2,800 volunteers on the coast of Texas to more than 500,000 volunteers in every U.S. state and territory and more than 90 countries.

Last year in Florida, volunteers scoured 1,831 miles of beaches and collected 376 tons of debris. The items included contact lenses, a bathtub, a parachute, an artificial Christmas tree, a rowing machine and a fetal sonogram.

The 1999 numbers were slightly down because Hurricane Floyd kept more than 1.3-million east-coasters on alert the week before the cleanup and Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall on the west coast a few days later.

Cleanup organizers expect a record turnout this year, and hope boaters and fishermen who use the waterways will turn out and show their support.

To find out more about this year's cleanup, call the Coastal Cleanup coordinator in your area or just show up on the beach with a garbage bag.

In Pinellas, Bill Sanders (727) 441-6005; in Hillsborough (813) 960-5121; in Citrus, Mark Edwards (352) 527-7620; in Hernando: Sherry Magbee (352) 797-0505; in Pasco, Chris Cook or Jackie Tambasco (727) 847-8041.

Quick facts

Plastics are the most common manmade objects sighted at sea. In a 1988 survey, 89 percent of the trash observed floating in the north Pacific Ocean was plastic.

Many common plastic objects such as bottles, sheeting and polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) cups were found on remote Arctic beaches of the southern Beaufort Sea.

In 1960, about 6.3-billion pounds of plastic were produced in the United States. By the early 1970s, the figure had tripled, with an annual production of more than 20-billion pounds. Plastic production has continued to increase in the United States to a volume of almost 50-billion pounds in 1988 -- more than 10 pounds of plastic for every person on Earth.

Enough cigarette butts were collected during the 1996 Coastal Cleanup to make up over 30,438 packs of cigarettes.

The Dirty Dozen

A compiled amount of the debris collected during the 1998 International Coastal Cleanup:

1. cigarette butts: 1,317,092

2. plastic pieces: 337,342

3. foamed plastic pieces: 306,839

4. food bags/wrappers (plastic): 299,154

5. paper pieces: 234,975

6. caps, lids (plastic): 229,399

7. glass pieces: 211,894

8. straws: 162,046

9. beverage bottles (glass): 160,946

10. beverage cans: 152,690

11. beverage bottles (plastic): 149,731

12. bottle caps (metal): 111,324

Dirty Dozen totals: 3,673,432

- Source: Center for Marine Conservation

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