Marine debris in Florida waterways and along the coasts poses a significant entanglement and ingestion threat to wildlife. Since 2005, the SDRP has been a contributing member of the Florida Entanglement Working Group and more recently since 2013, the Florida Marine Debris Reduction Team. This team is composed of experts from state and federal agencies, not-for-profit research organizations, and stakeholder groups. Dr. Jennifer McGee of FWC and I serve as co-chairs of the Wildlife and Habitats Working Group, with Dr. Katie McHugh as a member. After three years and several meetings, the five working groups developed a draft Florida Marine Debris Reduction Guidance Plan. Currently under agency review, this draft plan will be released for broad stakeholder input in 2017. One of the key actions recommended to understand impacts to wildlife and habitats was conducting more research on marine debris hotspots and collecting data from community cleanups.
Starting in 2015, I worked with Mote educators Kasey Gaylord-Opalewski and Kaitlyn Hofeldt to engage Mote high school interns to walk a number of bridges and piers within Sarasota and Manatee Counties to record numbers of people and fishing lines in the water, wildlife present, and the amount of trash seen. The students were trained to use NOAA’s Marine Debris Tracker App to record the trash observed during these surveys. During November 2015-April 2016, 72 surveys were conducted by students and a total of 3,618 pieces of trash were logged (including 1,551 cigarettes, 886 plastic, 493 fishing gear, 225 metal, 103 paper, and 80 glass items). These students have also conducted coastal cleanups as part of the Ocean Conservancy’s Coastal Cleanup, Sarasota Bay Watch’s Monofilament Cleanup, as well as their own with other students from the community. During Mote’s World Ocean Day in June 2016, these students were able to highlight their results to the public as well as engage them in creative ways to learn about marine debris and actions they can take to reduce it. Let’s hear it for the next generation helping to spread the word to keep our oceans clean!
This article appeared on page 29 of the 2017 SDRP Annual Report, Nicks n Notches.