Hurricane Irma's impact seen in marine trash collection

Fishing line, a barnacle-encrusted mini-fridge, an inflatable dinghy – and a suitcase full of framed family photos:

Those were just some of the stuff that volunteers in watercraft plucked from Estero Bay this morning at the annual “Monofilament Madness” collection.

Keep Lee County Beautiful coordinates the event, which was first launched in 1993 to encourage people to be more careful when discarding fishing line.

But this year, big, bulky things dominated the drive.

Of more than 3,000 pounds collected, “maybe four pounds of that was monofilament line. This was definitely hurricane debris,” said Trish Fancher, KLCB executive director.

That estimated total is about 1,000 pounds more than the typical collection this time of year, Fancher said. She wasn’t surprised since Hurricane Irma swept through Lee County less than two months ago.

Still, this year's haul still doesn't hold a candle to the one after Hurricane Charley in 2004, said volunteer Frank Fontaine.

"After Charley, we pulled out boatload after boatload of trash," said Fontaine, a Fort Myers Beach resident. That figures, he said, since Charley hammered at the Beach far more than Irma.

Fontaine and neighbors James and Katie Torrence said they made three trash excursions in Fontaine’s Boston Whaler, lugging in a battered flattened dinghy in the final trip.

The trio also brought in “a water cooler and a porta-pottie,” said Katie Torrence, adding: “It was fun and great exercise.”

The historic Mound House on Fort Myers Beach was this year's collection center, and drew about 50 volunteers.

Those who came in kayaks pulled their watercraft up on the lawn overlooking the sparkling bay waters.  By noon, the volunteers were digging into barbecue courtesy of the Sam Galloway auto dealerships.

Other key players were Lee County Solid Waste, Advance Disposal, Manatee Guides, Fort Myers Beach Community Foundation and the Mound House.

The collected marine trash is destined for the county incinerator. It’s too degraded or covered in barnacles to be recycled, Fancher said.

The photos found in the suitcase could have a different fate, though.

Corri Francisco of the Fort Myers Beach Community Foundation thought she recognized the youngsters in one of the photos, and began making inquiries.

Monofilament fishing line, which gives the collection its catchy name, is popular with anglers because it is strong, durable and virtually invisible under water.

Those same traits, however, make it deadly to wildlife.

A day on the water can go from pure joy to stomach-churning if you see a bird or marine critter entangled in discarded fishing line.

On Saturday, only one wildlife casualty was sighted: A catfish entangled in fishing line wrapped around some debris. Organizers said that typically, a bird or two — dead or alive — is seen.

Fancher was heartened that so little fishing line was found this year.

She mused, “Maybe our educational effort is working.”

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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