This month, our work with cigarette butts on fishing piers continues.  One stipulation of the grant we received from Keep America Beautiful is follow-up litter scans at each location where cigarette receptacles were installed.  The bins have been collecting butts at 15 sites in Florida since June.  With help from a few of our partners, we have been busy counting cigarette butts both contained in the receptacles and littered on the ground at each pier.

Our Conservation Interns, Sarah, Genevieve, and I started with the local piers.  Our mission became a bit harder than we expected when we discovered that the locks on the receptacles had all corroded.  In the words of one of the pier managers we spoke with, “Nothing on God’s green Earth will last out here in the salt.”  So, it was back to the shop to ask if we could borrow the bolt cutters and order some rubber-coated locks.  I am happy to report that after several lessons from LMC’s Operations team, we have mastered a method for cutting off the old locks and putting the new ones in place, heavily greased and ready to take on some salt… we hope.

After that, we headed north for Panama City Beach.  There, we conducted RPI refresher trainings at Russell-Fields Pier and MB Miller Pier.  Staff at each location reviewed rescue and reporting steps and walked the piers with us to check on signage and speak with a few of the regular anglers.  Staff from Gulf World even helped us pick up cigarette butts!

We then drove west to Fort Walton Beach to bring Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier on board for the first time.  The staff at Gulfarium have been helping us with detailed reports of turtles they have treated from other piers in the area for some time.  They were eager to implement the RPI on the pier in their own backyard.  They are also excited to expand conservation efforts in collaboration with the pier staff who have been working hard to improve environmental stewardship with monofilament recycling bins, circle hook sales, cigarette receptacles, and increased educational signage.  We shared our ideas for engaging anglers in projects, including one of my favorite initiatives – kids’ fishing programs designed to empower the next generation of responsible anglers.

On the nine Florida piers we have analyzed so far, we have counted 6,049 cigarette butts collected in the receptacles.  That is 6,049 butts that are not in the ocean or on the beach; 6,049 individual decisions to dispose of waste responsibly for the protection of the marine environment.  Several piers we visited asked if they could have additional receptacles.  We are working to ship those out now.  We are very proud of the success we are seeing so far and hope we can continue to prevent marine debris through our Responsible Pier Initiative.

In 2008, Jack Johnson, along with his team, created All At Once, a social action network that allows his fans to learn, inspire change, and connect with environmental groups in their communities.

The team works hard to use their platform for good.  While on tour, the crew installs water refill stations, sells reusable water bottles and pint glasses, works with venues to eliminate plastic straws, offers recycling and composting, fuels their tour busses with biodiesel, encourages carpooling, sources local, organic food as part of a farm-to-stage catering program, sells upcycled bags and organic cotton t-shirts, and offsets remaining carbon emissions through carbon management projects.  The Johnson Ohana Foundation also offers matching donations to All At Once partners.

They host a Village Green at each show, inviting local non-profit organizations to speak with concert-goers about the work they do and how to become involved.  We were lucky enough to be part of the West Palm Beach concert last week.

Thousands of people came through the tent, many stopping to ask us about the sea turtles we work with and how they can help protect them.  A member of the band, Zach Gill, played live music in the tent until he had to go on stage for the show and everyone was stopping to take photos of their pledges for ocean conservation.  Even in the pouring rain, everyone we spoke with was genuinely interested in conservation and excited to take part in the concert’s initiatives to reduce waste.

After the Village Green was packed up, we were given passes to stand in the pit for the show!  For us, normally miles away in the lawn seats, this was incredible – we were completely star struck.  The stage was covered in reclaimed fishing nets illuminated by lights made from plastic cleaned from beaches in Hawaii.  Jack even dedicated one of his songs, The Horizon Has Been Defeated, to all the non-profits in attendance.  He spoke about the ocean pollution he’s seen and encouraged his fans to be involved in their communities.

The following night, we held a beach cleanup and a screening of Smog of the Sea here at LMC.  The film chronicles a one-week journey to study plastics in the Sargasso Sea.  Jack Johnson, along with a crew of surfers and spearfishers, sail with marine scientist, Marcus Eriksen, to sample the waters and analyze what they find.  It’s a sobering look at the seemingly endless distribution of microplastics in the ocean and it calls everyone to action.

We were able to remove 125 lbs. of trash from the beach in one hour’s time before enjoying the film with popcorn and beer donated by SaltWater Brewery.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the event at LMC and thank you to All At Once for having us!  We are continuously inspired by what we can all accomplish together and we will never forget the night Jack Johnson sang to us.

Most importantly, we’re relieved to report that we heard from our partners in Puerto Rico and everyone is safe.  They are working to assess the damage done and recover from Hurricane Maria.  We will continue to communicate with them as often as possible as we work on our projects here at home.

In September, I traveled west to implement the RPI at several new sites in Hernando County – an area we have not previously worked.  I had all the tools, signs, nets, and monofilament tubes packed, my presentation was well-practiced, and the drills were charged.  I woke up early, made it all the way over to Brooksville, was ready to meet our new partners at the UF/IFAS Hernando County Extension Office, and then, this happened.

I was about 20 miles away from the office so I called our partners to come to my rescue (thank you, Brittany)!  We left my car on the side of I-75 and made our way to the patiently waiting FWC officers, Port Authority staff, County Waterway employees, Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel, and local community members.

Following the workshop, with the help of a few volunteers, we installed signs and monofilament recycling tubes at three of the five new locations (the last two were badly damaged in recent hurricanes and signage will be installed as soon as possible).  I was quick to put the training attendees to work and we got all sites done in about an hour.

After installations, we returned to my car with Officer Sehl of FWC Law Enforcement.  She blocked traffic with her official vehicle and we changed the tire so I could continue on my travels.  She also – after several stern warnings – made sure I didn’t exceed 50 miles per hour on my spare.

Although, the day did not exactly go according to schedule, I was so grateful to see everyone work together – both to bring a new conservation program to their area, and to help a new friend stranded on the side of the highway.  We are looking forward to working with everyone in Hernando County again soon – hopefully with fewer roadside emergencies next time!

Hurricane Season

In light of the recent hurricanes, our hearts are with all of our partners in Florida, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico.  We are very grateful that our LMC sea turtle patients, staff members, volunteers, and facility were not more tragically affected by the storm. Many members of our conservation community have been devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Today, our thoughts are especially focused on our partners in Puerto Rico who were in the direct path of Hurricane Maria early yesterday morning.  We have been honored to work with these colleagues, who quickly became friends, for several years and are looking forward to being back in touch with them and helping as much as we can as soon as the storm clears.  It is important that we pull together to support each other in times when help is so widely needed.

We have organized a local volunteer shift at the Palm Beach County Food Bank next Wednesday, 9/27, from 1:00 – 4:00 PM.  If you are able to join us, please email dfox@marinelife.org for more information.

Stay safe, everyone.

Our Responsible Pier Initiative (RPI) partners in Virginia have been hard at work!  While we were installing cigarette receptacles on Florida piers, we stopped at the Post Office to ship supplies to Virginia Beach.

Our colleagues at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center monitor seven fishing piers.  Since 2014, they have been holding workshops for pier managers, surveying anglers, and responding to incidentally hooked sea turtles in the Virginia Beach area.  Their Pier Partner Program has seen incredible success.  When we offered to include them in our proposal to place cigarette receptacles on participating RPI piers through Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, they quickly agreed to distribute the receptacles to their piers.

Staff recently conducted initial litter scans at three of their seven piers and have already removed nearly 1,700 cigarette butts.

Conservation is not a singular action.  It is ongoing.  It takes many projects in many, widely dispersed spaces, and requires the help of everyone.  By working with partners like ours at the Virginia Aquarium, we are much better equipped to effect change for our ocean.  We are looking forward to seeing the impact we can make together.

 

Late Friday, I received an email from Lake Worth Ocean Rescue, our dedicated RPI partner for the William O. Lockhart Municipal (Lake Worth) Pier.  The cigarette receptacles, which we installed with the help of a Cigarette Litter Prevention Program grant on June 7, were already full.

I took the short trip south to Lake Worth Saturday morning to find cigarette butts nearly spilling from the receptacle at the foot of the pier.  The pier’s bait house employees were kind enough to help me open the salt-crusted lock on the receptacle to collect the butts.  They asked me to leave them a set of keys and we made a deal: they would monitor the bin closest to the bait house if we took care of the two further out on the pier.  Done!

On my count, 632 cigarette butts and three cigar tips were properly discarded.

One cigarette butt stamped out on the pier’s deck may not seem like it could do much harm to the great, big ocean, but the cumulative effect of everyone’s cigarette butts every day leaves a lot of plastic filters and chemicals with the potential to enter the water and be consumed by unsuspecting marine species.

Thank you to the Lake Worth Ocean Rescue lifeguards, who not only keep beachgoers safe, but also work to protect marine life and to the Lake Worth Pier staff who are doing their part to be sure everyone minds their butts!