Published on 08/13/09

Recycling keeps line away from turtles and fish

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

Plastic fishing line may be useful for catching fish, but left in the water it can be deadly to turtles and other sea life. To encourage fishermen to recycle broken fishing line, 4-H’ers along Georgia’s coastline have installed used fishing line recycling collection bins.

Volunteers in action

Along with volunteers from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and Clean Coast of Savannah, 4-H’ers set up 60 monofilament line recycling stations at piers and boat ramps in Camden, Glynn, McIntosh and Liberty counties.

Georgia 4-H began participating in the program in March 2008 when Camden County Cooperative Extension agent Amber Defore was searching the Internet for new programs to offer. She discovered that Florida 4-H’ers were collecting and recycling fishing line. A few more clicks, and she found information on a similar program at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.

“Doug Haymans of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources was listed as the contact and that’s how it all started for me,” she said. “Then I found out about the program in Glynn County was the brainchild of Liz Brown of the UGA Marine Extension Service.”

Defore and Glynn County 4-H agent Robi Gray were recruited into the project by Brown and the other coastal county 4-H programs soon followed suit.

Harmful to sea life

“Fishing line in the water can entangle sea animals’ wings and flippers,” Defore said. “It can also keep them from moving away from predators and swimming to the surface to get oxygen.”

The animals most often affected are sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, fish, sharks, stingrays, shorebirds and even humans.

Gray said 4-H’ers in her county didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the project until they installed their first collection station.

“We installed a receptacle off the old Sidney Lanier Bridge, which many people now use as a fishing pier,” she said. “The kids looked around at the marsh and saw a lot of fishing line tangled in the bushes. It really hit home to them how important it is to have a way to collect and remove it from the area.”

Educating the public

Public awareness has made the program “spread like wildfire,” Defore said.

At events such as the fishing derby on Jekyll Island and the Department of Natural Resource beach week on St. Simons Island, 4-H’ers educated the public on the hazards of leftover fishing line to wildlife and sea life said.

“They ask the people to shape their hand like a beak, and then they put rubber bands around the beak,” Gray said. “This shows them how a bird feels when fishing line wraps around its beak and prevents it from eating. Hands-on activities like this really hit home for the kids.”

In Camden County, 92 percent of the containers are being used, Defore said.

“They have collected as little as one strand of line and as much as 40 pieces in individual stations,” she said. “The site on the St. Simons Island pier is always overloaded.”

The collection stations are most often elbow-shaped and made of PVC pipe. The production and distribution of these containers was made possible by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant and the Georgia's Sport Fish Restoration Program, funded in part from fishing license fees.

“The kids seem to like checking the collection sites,” Defore said. “It gives them a sense of responsibility.”

Converted into fish habitats

Once collected, the fishing line is sent to Berkley Conservation Institute to be recycled. It is then sent to Pure Fishing where it is turned into tackle boxes, fishing habitats and fishing line spools.

Plastic panels made from the recycled fishing line are given to the 4-H’ers, who transform them into boxes that serve as fish habitats.

“The panels are connected like a puzzle, roped off and sunk in fresh water ponds where they become fish habitats,” Gray said. “This effort makes a complete circle from catching fish to collecting the fishing line to creating something that makes an environment for fish to breed in.”

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.