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Cleanups in Florida

One of the best and easiest ways to support our environment is to participate in or host a coastal cleanup.

It is always better to partner with an existing cleanup program then to “reinvent the wheel”!

How to organize your own cleanup event:

When organizing a cleanup event, preventing injury should be the most important consideration.  Fishing line and gear can be just as hazardous to humans as it can be to wildlife when left in the environment.  Line is difficult to break and can cut human skin easily if inappropriately handled. Likewise, divers can become entangled and drown.  Gear that is rusty and encrusted with barnacles is sharp and infectious.  Take care to train cleanup volunteers so that they are aware of hazards and provide them with the appropriate tools to do the task.

Conducting a cleanup event is best done in collaboration with an existing event to increase volunteer turnout, to share resources, and so that numbers can be reported on an areawide, statewide or worldwide level. Several organizations, like the Ocean Conservancy, Tampa BayWatch, Keep Lee County Beautiful, Clear Your Gear, and Keep Brevard Beautiful already conduct monofilament cleanup events.   Contact one of these entities or your local Keep Florida Beautiful affiliate to see if they would like to partner on an event.  It is always better to partner with an existing cleanup program then to “reinvent the wheel”!

Shoreline Cleanups

Cleaning a shoreline or coastline of monofilament is easier and less dangerous then conducting an underwater cleanup.  Focus your efforts in areas where fisherman congregate and tides can accumulate line. Locate areas of heavy line accumulation before the cleanup event so volunteers can be directed to a variety of locations. Coordinate a central (or several) volunteer check-in locations where a site captain can provide tools, register, and train volunteers. Volunteers should wear protective shoes and gloves, and be given line-cutting tools (seat belt cutters and fingernail clippers work great), in addition to the usual cleanup supplies such as garbage bags, sunscreen, bug spray, reporting forms, and first aid kits. The sign-in sheet should include liability waiver language to warn the volunteer of potential hazards and protect the organization from liability.  Post and read aloud applicable safety precautions to each volunteer as they check-in. Have volunteers report everything that they find on a designated report form, including entangled wildlife.

Try to encourage boating groups and community organizations to volunteer for the cleanup event.  Have a friendly competition and offer prizes to the organization that has the highest number of participants, collects the most line, or finds the most unusual piece of fishing gear.

Be careful to avoid bird nesting colonies and rookeries! Although these areas are often strewn with line, it is important not to disturb the birds during their breeding or nesting times. Likewise, these areas are often protected by law and may require a special permit to access. Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about the best times and permit requirements for cleaning rookery areas.

Underwater Cleanups

Due to the hazardous nature of recovering submerged monofilament, underwater cleanups should only be done in collaboration with professional dive groups or established events.  Nobody wants to be responsible for the death or injury of a diver due to entanglement in monofilament line, steel wire, or gear.  Contact professional dive clubs or a rescue dive team for assistance with dive cleanups.  Divers must have current dive cards and preferably be instructor level divers.  Each diver must have a buddy who remains with him or her at all times.  Each diver must have a sharp knife or wire cutter that can cut through heavy leader material.  They should wear gloves, full wetsuits, and boots to avoid barnacle scrapes and cuts from gear. 

Support persons should be situated at the surface on a flats boat or dock to assist divers with their bags of debris. The support person should also keep close track of divers locations, air bubbles, and the number of people underwater. A confined location such as a pier or bridge should be designated for cleanup so that divers can more easily be tracked and assisted by support crew. There should be at least one support boat for each 8-10 divers.

Volunteers are also needed at the surface to clean the recovered line, remove gear, and separate recyclable vs. non-recyclable material.  Line recovered from underwater is often so encrusted that it can’t be recycled. Only clean line can be recycled!   Fishing gear such as weights, hooks and lures can be shared with anglers or collected in a pickle jar for display.

Event Advertising

Advertising is important to a successful cleanup event because it informs potential volunteers where and when to participate and it provides public recognition to those who volunteer.  Social media is always a great way to advertise. Don’t forget to the name and contact number of someone who will be reachable at the event. You may also be able to list the event on the public radio station events calendar or website.  Print and post posters at schools, shopping plazas, government buildings, bus stops, and other places of high public use.

On the day of the event, call the local television news stations and remind about the cleanup event.  Give them your name, cell-phone number, and cleanup locations. Describe statistics of wildlife injury and include the names of participating clubs to make the story more interesting. After the event, have all site captains report final numbers of line collected to a single person as soon as possible, so those number can be reported.