Friday, January 19, 2018
Human Interest

Birding enthusiast crusades against discarded monofilament fishing line

DUNEDIN — Perspiring under the Florida sun, Kim Begay searched the rocks encircling the small, westernmost bridge leading to Honeymoon Island.

A large plastic container swinging from one arm, Begay stooped over every couple of steps to pick up discarded fishing line — tangled webs of thin monofilament casually dropped by fishermen. Into her container went the tangled mass, often laced with bits of bait and sea grass.

For the past year, Begay, 50, has been on a mission to prevent seabirds from becoming entangled in the carelessly tossed lines.

"This kind of stuff is a death trap to little shorebirds," she said, holding up a clump of wire-like filament. "Their little feet or beaks get stuck in this wire and they can't move."

It's not just the little birds that suffer.

"A lot of the shorebirds mistake the tangled up filament for the Spanish moss they use to make their nests," she said. "If you've ever seen an osprey dangling from filament in a tree, you will never forget it."

A native of Miami who spent her childhood outdoors, Begay now lives in Palm Harbor with her husband Aaron and their 11-year-old son. She has been a lifelong wildlife and birding enthusiast.

"I'm here because this is a significant issue that hasn't been addressed," she said of the discarded fishing line. "I cleaned up four and a half hours yesterday and found massive, massive tangles of line."

As Begay went about her work, Andy Chergi of Dunedin was fishing off the bridge in a spot he occupies four days a week. He is among the more concerned fisherman.

"Many fishermen are careless," he said. "If they cut their line, they just leave it."

Chergi puts his fishing line into his tackle box or even his pocket, he said, rather than tossing it in the water or onto the rocks.

Those who use one of the few, scattered trash bins may not be helping the birds either, Begay said. Small birds go right into the trash and get caught in the line inside the open bin.

"A lot of fishermen don't realize the danger in what they are doing," she said. "We're talking about beautiful bald eagles, ospreys and herons as well as the smaller birds."

Working in conjunction with the Clearwater Audubon Society, Begay hopes to change what she considers an unacceptable situation.

"This is all about respect for nature and other life forms," she said.

She has begun to make a small difference just by talking to the fishermen on both the north and south shores of the bridge, which has been recognized as an IBA (important bird area). Begay cautions them about carelessly dropping their monofilament line, telling them of the danger to birds. Many have indicated a desire to be more cautious.

"I want to promote environmental stewardship of our area," she said, "and spread the message about the hazards of fishing line to our seabirds, turtles and other marine life."

Some specific steps to spread that message are in the works.

Begay has begun documenting her findings in photos and posting them on her Facebook page. Along with Barbara Walker, conservation advocate for the Clearwater Audubon Society, she will be consulting with the Dunedin City Commission and the Dunedin's parks department to try to get bird-safe receptacles installed on or near the bridge. Mainly, these would consist of plastic cylindrical bins specifically for monofilament recycling.

Another plan is to distribute informative, cautionary flyers to bait shops, sporting goods stores and fishing departments of large discount stores, detailing the harm done by monofilament and other plastic detritus, such as circular holders for beer and soft drinks.

Walker, who also oversees the eagle and osprey watch programs for the Clearwater Audubon Society, has been impressed with the amount of time Begay has given to cleaning the bridge and surrounding areas.

"Fishing line entanglement may be our second largest problem in wildlife and human interaction," Walker said. The first, she added, is wildlife collision with vehicles, including cars and all sorts of watercraft.

"The fishing line we have more power to change," she said.

   
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