Guest blog by: Capt. Neill Holland, President, Ocean Aid 360
“If you want to see coastal habitat restoration in action, get to an Ocean Aid 360 Ghost Trap Rodeo.” - That’s how one of last weekend’s participants in Apalachicola, Florida, described the day after she spent four hours participating in our traveling marine debris cleanup tournament. The project, which began in 2018 with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Removal Grant, has expanded beyond Tampa Bay to impact coastal communities across Florida with support from a Fishing for Energy grant, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta, Schnitzer Steel Industries, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program.
Since our very first event in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Ocean Aid 360 Ghost Trap Rodeo, which resembles an all-ages fishing tournament with prizes, has engaged 1,085 volunteers in 22 events, from the Florida Panhandle to Key West and the Bahamas. Over that time, these participating boaters, anglers, paddlers, and beachcombers have helped Ocean Aid 360 find and remove over 162,000 pounds of marine debris, including 2,591 derelict crab and lobster traps left abandoned during seasonal closures.
The origins of our Ghost Trap Rodeo project can be traced back to Ocean Aid 360’s own Danielle Dawley, who spent the second half of every lunch hour walking the shoreline near her office to pick up plastics carried in by the tide. As Danielle’s great example caught on with co-workers and friends, Ocean Aid 360 was born. From the start, our team set our sights on creating an organization where all marine user groups – both recreational and commercial – could work together as part of our clean seas community.
One of our early realizations was that derelict fishing gear results when fishing gear, such as crab traps, become lost to their angler as a result of storms or boat strikes. These events can move the trap from its original location or separate it from its buoy, and the trap will continue to “ghost fish” for years despite having no one to tend the trap. Marine life enters the trap, dies, and acts as bait for the next cycle of animals. This can continue for years before the trap is sufficiently degraded to allow for escape. We chose to prioritize the removal of these ghost traps, and through Ocean Aid 360’s events, Ghost Trap Rodeo volunteers have already released many thousands of live blue and stone crabs, spiny lobsters, sheepshead, redfish, snapper, rays, and more as our teams work to stop the cycle of ghost fishing.
Ocean Aid 360 and our non-profit partners are working every day to improve habitat conditions for marine life and for residents who find joy in interacting with nature. But what we do is entirely impossible without you. Concerned citizens just like you help staff our events, spread awareness of our volunteer opportunities, and share your resources with us so that we can continue to organize events, permits, and debris recycling to help protect the watershed.
Last weekend, when the four-hour Ocean Aid 360 Ghost Trap Rodeo at Apalachicola wrapped up, the Franklin County waste disposal team weighed in 5,940 pounds of marine debris pulled from the bay, including 193 derelict blue crab traps full of every kind of local marine life. An impact made possible by close to 50 concerned volunteers working together for a healthy marine habitat. Now what’s cooler than that?
Until next time, take care of yourself, and if you can, your local waters, too.