Artificial reefs are human-made structures built on the ocean floor to provide habitat for marine species, enhance fishing and diving opportunities, and provide economic benefits to local communities. Unfortunately, over time derelict fishing gear, such as lost or discarded netting, monofilament line, stainless steel hooks, lead weights, and lures, can easily accumulate on these popular fishing locations. The buildup of marine debris can physically damage and degrade the reef habitat, as well as pose entanglement and ingestion hazards to marine wildlife.
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently completed a project with the support of a Fishing for Energy grant, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta, and Schnitzer Steel, to address the issue by removing derelict fishing gear and other marine debris from four artificial reefs in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves on the southwest coast of Florida.
Florida’s DEP and partners removed over 4,000 pounds of debris, including 257 anchors, 20 cast nets, 32 fishing poles, hundreds of feet of fishing line, 2,000 feet of rope, along with hooks, lures, tackle, plastic items, and clothing. Rather than ending up at a local landfill, the collected debris was transported to a local Covanta Energy facility where it was recycled and converted to energy.
Two months after the removal efforts, volunteer divers conducted an initial assessment of the artificial reefs and found minimal debris present. However, during assessments one year after the removal efforts, a larger amount of debris was found to be accumulating, suggesting the need for regular removal efforts to keep these important artificial reef habitats free of debris.
Throughout the project, Florida’s DEP created several outreach opportunities to educate the general public, local environmentalists, divers, and county commissioners on the importance of preventing and removing derelict fishing gear while highlighting project successes. Check out their educational video and visual StoryMap to learn more about this project!