As the “fishing capital of the world,” Florida provides both great opportunity and great responsibility for anglers. The responsibility is not only to responsibly use fishing resources, but also to limit impacts to other wildlife. When anglers clean their catch, they have a responsibility to dispose of fish carcasses appropriately. Many anglers think that the best place for disposal is in the water, as this “recycles” fish scraps back into the environment.
However, this can be harmful to wildlife such as seabirds, marine turtles, and marine mammals. It can also diminish water quality in areas where there is not significant flushing. In addition, the carcasses can attract predatory fish such as sharks, which can be dangerous to humans.
Disposal of fish carcasses on the water’s surface presents two main problems for seabirds—ingestion and conditioning. Seabirds will attempt to eat carcasses that are thrown on the water’s surface because they are an easy catch. The ingestion of carcasses and bones—particularly larger ones—can injure or kill seabirds by puncturing their throats or rotting in their pouches. As seabirds become conditioned to areas where they can easily find free meals, they will congregate in these areas more frequently, thereby increasing the chances of negative interactions with humans, such as getting hooked on fishing gear or entangled in line.
One solution suggested to address these threats to seabirds is to install tubes at piers and fish cleaning stations for anglers to dispose of their carcasses. These are PVC pipes open at both ends and extending down under the water, allowing the carcasses to sink deeper in the water column where seabirds can’t get them. Some areas have had success protecting seabirds with this method, and other partners are wanting to follow suit. However, this method of disposal does not account for the hazards to other marine life.
All species of marine turtles except leatherbacks will eat fish carcasses. When discarded from piers (whether thrown directly into the water or via a disposal tube), this easy food source will attract marine turtles to these areas where they are more likely to ingest baited hooks or become entangled in fishing line and may result in interruption of their natural foraging patterns. In one incident at the Juno Pier, a loggerhead turtle was taken to a rehabilitator and then died; this turtle had 14 hooks in its gastrointestinal (GI) tract! The rehabilitator noted receiving additional cases from the same pier in which turtles had consumed fish carcasses, and the bones perforated the GI tract, resulting in eventual death.
Manatees may also be harmed by the disposal of fish carcasses into the water, especially if hooks or fishing line are being disposed of along with the fish carcasses. Although manatees are mainly herbivores, they have been observed eating fish and fish carcasses, and it is therefore expected that they may be attracted to areas where the tubes are installed. This can result in more entanglements and ingestion of line and hooks by manatees.
FWC’s Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program has a recurrent problem with hooks, lures, plastic bags, food, and other trash stuffed into the monofilament bins, despite stickers and signs saying “monofilament only,” and “no garbage.” We might expect similar problems with fish carcass disposal tubes – some gear and line would be discarded in the tubes also. Even if only carcasses were put into the tubes, they would still attract marine mammals and turtles to places where they are more likely to be entangled.
In keeping with our mission to protect all coastal wildlife, the Coastal Wildlife Conservation Initiative does not promote the use of fish carcass disposal tubes that allow the carcasses to go into the water, due to the hazards they present for marine life such as sea turtles and manatees. Instead, we strongly recommend that anglers dispose of carcasses in lidded trash cans provided at or near the pier or take them home and put them in their own trash cans. If other novel solutions are presented in the future, we will work with species experts to evaluate them for potential benefits and drawbacks.
Six species of shorebirds and seabirds have been documented to nest on flat, gravel roofs in Florida. The most common species to nest on rooftops is the Least Tern, but Black Skimmers, Roseate Terns, Gull-billed Terns, American Oystercatchers, and Killdeer also use these rooftop habitats.
There are approximately 400 suitable rooftops reported around the state. We have found partners to survey many of them, but there are rooftops that need covered. Would you help us check on these?
Please see the online List of Historic Rooftops for rooftops near you (scroll down to your county; the rooftops highlighted in yellow still need volunteers, though it doesn't hurt to have multiple people checking the same roof).
1. Asking the building owner/manager if the roof is still gravel. If not, let us know. It will no longer need to be monitored.
2.If the rooftop is still gravel, we need volunteers to check on the site once during each of the remaining count windows: May 13-19, June 10-16, July 8-14, and August 5-11.
3. Each rooftop survey only requires a 15-minute visit. The survey consists of watching the rooftop from the ground, and counting the number of shorebirds or seabirds flying above, to, or from the roof. All visits should then be reported in the Florida Shorebird Database.
No prior experience is necessary, and we have several online resources to help you learn more, including a detailed monitoring protocol and training webinar on the RESOURCES tab of the Florida Shorebird Database.
The next Count Window for the Breeding Bird Protocol is May 13-19!
Did you know the Florida Shorebird Alliance (FSA) has a Facebook group?! The FSA group is a glowing example of social media being used to connect and coordinate in a vibrant way.
In the group you can find answers to technical questions like, "Does it look like this Black Skimmer is incubating?". You can also find out about local stewardship needs, various shorebird trainings, and even a have a laugh at sightings of abnormally large Piping Plovers.
The FSA group now has over 1500 members and is growing daily. If you're new to the shorebird world and want to know more, join the group and ask questions. The group is welcoming and generous in sharing knowledge. If you're already a member, thank you for sharing on-the-ground news, questions, and needs for support.
The Florida Shorebird Alliance (FSA) is a partnership of agencies, non-government organizations, and individuals committed to shorebird and seabird conservation in Florida. FSA partners coordinate their independent work and collaborate to address research, management, education, outreach, and public policy needs.