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Turn in Gasparilla beads to get discount on Tampa aquarium tickets

There are also places to drop off unwanted beads to be recycled and keep them out of the waters of Tampa Bay.
 
Multiple beads are shown off during the 2023 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates in Tampa.
Multiple beads are shown off during the 2023 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates in Tampa. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Jan. 18|Updated Jan. 18

As the city of Tampa heads into Gasparilla season with Saturday’s Children’s Gasparilla Parade and next weekend’s big Parade of Pirates on Jan. 27, environmentalists are getting ready for the cleanup aftermath: piles of beads tossed from parade floats that land on the streets and at the bottom of Tampa Bay.

The plastic beads that land in the waters of the bay, tossed by boaters and paradegoers without a thought to the damage they can do to the environment and wildlife, are a big worry. Beads, like all other plastics, break down into microplastics. They never decompose and remain in the ecosystem for hundreds of years, according to the Florida Aquarium.

The Tampa aquarium is sweetening the deal during Gasparilla season by offering revelers 50% off admission if they drop off beads at the aquarium for recycling.

Beaded necklaces are scattered about Bayshore Boulevard during the 2023 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates in Tampa.
Beaded necklaces are scattered about Bayshore Boulevard during the 2023 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates in Tampa. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times (2023)  ]

For every 5-gallon bucket of recycled beads delivered to the aquarium, you get half-off admission to the Florida Aquarium, which costs $30.45-$33.70 depending on the date. The promotion is available Saturday, Jan. 20, through Feb. 11.

The effort is part of the city of Tampa’s Bead-Free Bay initiative to help protect the marine ecosystem.

The city of Tampa has set up other recycling locations where paradegoers can take their unwanted beads, so they can be recycled.

Residents can drop off their beads during normal business hours at these Tampa locations:

  • Kate Jackson Community Center, 821 S. Rome Ave.
  • Loretta Ingraham Recreation Complex, 1611 N. Hubert Ave.
  • Copeland Park Center, 11001 N. 15th St.
  • MacDonald Training Center, 5420 W. Cypress St.

An Eckerd College marine science professor told the Tampa Bay Times in 2016 that the beads contain unsafe chemicals and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead.

“The Florida Aquarium is committed to reducing plastic pollution, and the beads that are so synonymous with this celebration often find their way into our waterways where they can be ingested by, and harm, wildlife,” said Debborah Luke, senior vice president of conservation at the Florida Aquarium. “These beads, like all other plastics, break down into microplastics which never decompose and remain present in the ecosystem for hundreds of years.”

All the beads collected will be donated to the MacDonald Training Center, a nonprofit that helps adults with disabilities prepare for the workforce. Workers will sanitize and repackage the beads for reuse at future events. Funds raised support the center’s career and education programs.

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Following this year’s Gasparilla celebrations, divers from the Florida Aquarium and other organizations will participate in a bead cleanup. Hundreds of pounds of beads and debris are removed from local waters each year.

To learn more about this Bead-Free Bay initiative, visit flaquarium.org/upcoming-events/gasparilla-bead-recycling.

If you go

Florida Aquarium: Admission is $30.45-$33.70 depending on the date, $27.20 and up ages 3-11, 2 and younger free. 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. 813-273-4000. flaquarium.org.