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Don't drop a line, lend a hand

Published Oct. 2, 2005

Visit any bridge or pier frequented by anglers and you'll see at least one bird that bears the scars of monofilament fishing line.

The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission has determined discarded fishing line is the leading cause of death for adult brown pelicans, a listed species of special concern in Florida.

In 1994, during a cleanup of a bird-nesting island in Tampa Bay, volunteers found one long strand of line had snared seven birds, causing them to starve.

But today, three years later, fewer birds meet such grisly deaths, thanks to the work of Tampa BayWatch and the National Audubon Society.

On Saturday, volunteers from both organizations will scour the main colonial bird-nesting sites along West Central Florida for the fourth annual Monofilament Fishing Line Cleanup.

Boaters and volunteers are needed to visit an estimated 65 nesting islands and collect fishing line entangled in trees where it can snare wildlife.

The Center for Marine Conservation estimates monofilament fishing line takes 600 years to decompose in the environment, so the only way to protect the birds is to remove the line by hand.

Fishermen might think they do birds a favor when they cut the line after the animal has become hooked or entangled. But the bird flies off, line still attached, and lands in a tree where it will become entangled and die. But the line will remain intact, long after the bird's body has decomposed, and continue to kill.

Many birds unknowingly carry monofilament fishing line back to their colonies to use in their nests, ultimately endangering the lives of other birds.

By removing this unwanted material during the non-nesting season, the new crop of young birds born next spring will have a better chance for survival.

Three years ago, when Tampa BayWatch initiated the first cleanup, "Catch Fish _ Not Birds," 100 volunteers surveyed and cleaned 26 islands, removing 40 pounds of entangled debris and 26 dead birds. Each year since, the number of volunteers and islands visited has increased.

Last year, nearly 200 volunteers cleaned more than 50 bird-nesting islands and collected about 40 pounds of line and other debris. Thirty-eight dead birds also were discovered.

BayWatch is looking for the same number of volunteers. It also needs boats to ferry the volunteers to the islands. There are many sites from Sarasota Bay to the Anclote River so there should be one near you. To help, please call Tampa BayWatch at (813) 896-5320.

If you are fishing and come across a hooked bird, here are a few helpful hints from the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary:

Don't leave line on the bird.

Don't leave hooks in the wings, legs, etc., because the wound will become infected.

If the bird is seriously injured, call the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary at 391-6211.