Each year, thousands of birds are injured or killed as a result of entanglement with monofilament lines. Monofilament, or “mono” for short, is a single strand of flexible plastic and a very common type of fishing line used by anglers.
When a bird is entangled, the “mono” strand acts like a saw, rubbing against flesh and bone and sometimes severing wings or legs as the bird tries to get free. The entangled bird cannot walk, fly, feed themselves or their chicks, cannot defend themselves against predators—and cannot free themselves without human assistance. Most often, birds suffer from permanent damage or die a very slow painful death—a very common occurrence at Marco’s ABC Islands.
Located on the northwest side of Marco Island, the ABC Island includes three mangrove islands, which are CLOSED to public access year-round. The ABC Island is a Critical Wildlife Area, (CWA) established under the Florida Administrative Code to protect a variety of local wading and diving birds who used the islands for nesting and roosting year-round.
According to Brittany Piersma, an FWC biologist and steward, this is her second season surveying the ABC islands on a kayak. A large breeding population of Brown Pelicans, as well as the Reddish Egret, rely on this island to raise their young. The Island is also a regular roosting site for the Magnificent Frigatebirds.
The ABC Island is posted as CLOSED TO PUBLIC ACCESS and the recommended buffer distance is approximately 300 feet, and according to FWC, nobody should be going past the signs.
However, fishermen still anchor near shore and often leave fishing lines tangled in the mangroves. The deceased entangled bird leads to further entanglement of other birds in the rookery. Pierma usually leaves the snagged birds hanging till after nesting season—as further disturbance of flightless chicks may cause them to jump out of their nest and drown.
Birds are not the only ones injured by fishing line or net entanglement. Sea turtles and manatees are also victims when they ingest or are entangled in fishing lines or nets. Often times at the beach, we see a one-legged bird—most likely as a result of line entanglement.
Closer to our front yards, burrowing owls also fall victim to line entanglements, which lead to serious injuries. Their tiny feet can get caught in pieces of fabric as was the case for one burrowing owl where its legs were swollen beyond recognition and the tips of its toes beginning to decay. Something as harmless as bits of yarn, twine, ribbons used in hanging messages in a tree can entangle a small bird causing injuries to its neck, feathers or legs. According to Owl Watch Marco, while intentions are good, think before you put out these materials in your backyard.
What should you do if you see a bird tangled in fishing line? According to Piersma, unless you are trained, do not attempt to untangle the bird yourself. Birds, like herons with long pointy beaks, will try to defend themselves and go for soft targets such as your eyes.
The two easiest ways to prevent harm to seabirds according to FWC is to never feed them and to recycle all fishing lines in a monofilament recycling bin.
Hundreds of healthy wildlife die due to our careless actions—we can do better as a community!