Conservationists are beginning campaigns to convince fishermen to retrieve fishing lines and hooks that can injure or kill wildlife that get entangled or caught in the discarded equipment.
Cayman Wildlife Rescue, in association with the Department of Environment, will begin a poster campaign this month featuring disturbing photographs of turtles hopelessly entangled in plastic fishing lines or caught on steel hooks.
Posters will be placed at fishing stores and marinas in an attempt to educate fishermen, both professional and recreational, of the detrimental effect careless discarding of fishing equipment has on turtles, crabs, birds and fish.
Alison Corbett of Cayman Wildlife Rescue, who is spearheading the campaign, said: ‘Fishermen need to watch for dropped lines and basically clean up after themselves, and reclaim hooks and lines.’
With the campaign, she hopes to make the fishermen more aware of ‘what can happen when they leave equipment behind. We want to encourage them to be proactive and pick things up when they see it.’
Meanwhile, another environmental campaigner, Daniel Platts, has started his own online campaign to protect the ‘health and wellbeing’ of the sea surrounding Cayman.
Mr. Platts’s campaign aims to target shoreline fishermen leaving fishing lines behind, littering of the coastline, disregard for fishing seasons, destruction of coral by anchors, overdevelopment of the coastline and overfishing.
He has launched a Cayman Marine Awareness group, which now has 42 members, on the online social networking platform Facebook.
‘It saddens me every time I walk by the sea and constantly am confronted by discarded fishing line everywhere. I always return home with my pockets full of the stuff so I can dispose of it safely and correctly.
‘I feel more could be done to educate the public on this issue and the extreme hazard it poses to a wide abundance of wildlife that live in and around the sea,’ Mr. Platts said.
He added: ‘I will use Facebook as a starting post for this group which I am eventually hoping to branch out into a more physical form.’
Last year, the DoE responded to 20 reports of stranded turtles, the largest number it has received in a single year. According to DoE research officer Janice Blumenthal, that figure includes three incidents of injury or death due to fish hooks or fishing line, as well as five cases of injury or death due to other discarded fishing gear or other debris.
‘Every year, there are several documented incidents of turtles tangled in fishing line or swallowing fish hooks – many more are never reported,’ Ms. Blumenthal said.
In March this year Jessica Leblond, who works at the Ritz-Carlton’s Ambassadors of the Environment programme, came across a turtle and crab fatally enmeshed in fishing line.
‘We were out with friends wakeboarding in North Sound and on our way back, we were heading south of Booby Cay and thought ‘Great, there’s a turtle’, but as we got closer we saw something hanging from it and realised it was another animal.
‘We grabbed the boat hook – the turtle and crab were both huge – and we pulled them from the water, but they were both long dead.’
Fishing lines end up discarded in the sea when they get tangled on fishing reels, are cut free and left on shore or thrown overboard.
They can also catch underwater and are broken or cut free. Ms Blumenthal said this happens often when fishing lines are attached to objects on shore and left unattended over night. ‘Unattended lines drift across the bottom and often tangle, or bait is nibbled off causing the unprotected hook to snag,’ she said.
However, Clive Smith, president of the Cayman Islands Angling Club, members of which are usually deep sea fishermen, said to his knowledge it was uncommon for fishermen to deliberately throw away fishing lines. ‘They’ll usually take it with them and put it in the garbage,’ he said.
He acknowledged that fishing lines and hooks were discarded when they got caught on the ocean bed or reefs or break off when catching fish. ‘It’s an unfortunate side effect of fishing, but there’s not a lot you can do about it.’
He added: ‘We try to encourage everyone to be as careful as possible with the environment.’
The DoE is advising fishermen to start using non-stainless steel circle hooks instead of standard steel hooks, which can be swallowed by turtles, although there are no plans for a mandatory ban like the one imposed in the Gulf of Mexico on 1 June this year.
Stainless steel hooks do not degrade in a turtle’s stomach and often lead to death, while non-stainless steel hooks quickly degrade, reducing the chances of death from ingestion.
Fishermen who accidentally hook a turtle are advised to contact the DoE rather than try to transport the turtle themselves because it is possible they could be prosecuted for possessing a protected species.
Discarding fishing lines and other debris from a boat is covered by the Merchant Shipping (Marine Pollution Law) 2001, while doing it on shore is covered by litter laws.
Godfrey McLean, office manager of the Cayman Islands Seafarers Association, admitted he was disappointed by the ongoing polluting of the waterways. ‘We are losing too much of our sea inhabitants through ignorance and stupidity,’ he said.
Often, the people who are left to clear up fishing lines that end up on reefs or on the seabed are divers.
Isabelle Yeo, office manager at Don Foster’s Dive Shop, said her company’s divers frequently come back from dives with handfuls of fishing lines.
She said: ‘We do come across hooks and lines and things like that. We find them across reefs, sometimes across turtles and fish. If the divers find it on a reef, it’s easier to remove and collect.
‘Most people are quite conscientious because they know it’s pollution and litter along the reef and they clean it up. It’s not easy to remove the lines from a turtle, or a barracuda.’
People who come across an injured turtle or bird, should contact the DoE on Grand Cayman on 949-8469, Cayman Brac on 926-0136, and Little Cayman on 916-7021 or call Cayman Wildlife Rescue on 917-BIRD (2473).