TAMPA, Fla. — The city of Tampa is two days out from its biggest party of the year: Gasparilla.
While law enforcement agencies are preparing to keep the event safe, they and other environmental groups are also getting ready for the aftermath: the clean-up.
Piles of beads must be picked up and attendees are encouraged to keep Tampa Bay bead-free.
It's an effort to keep the environment and wildlife safe since beads, like all other plastics, break down into microplastics, which never decompose and remain in the ecosystem for hundreds of years, according to the Florida Aquarium.
However, throwing beads or other litter into the water is also illegal under Florida Statute 403.413. Violators could face a $150 fine, according to the statute.
"We'll provide some education and if it leads to some sort of enforcement, then we'll have to do that," Chris Audet with the Tampa Police Department dive team said.
Audet estimates there are hundreds of pounds of beads accumulated in the water alone. The Florida Aquarium states divers pulled 120 pounds of beads out of local waters in 2019.
Audet said it's common for divers to find beads at any time of the year when conducting recoveries or searches.
However, that doesn't include other trash and debris.
Scooters, bicycles and grocery carts have also been found in the water, Audet said. Last year, at least 62 scooters were recovered from the Hillsborough River in one day.
Law enforcement agencies have urged the public to say something if they see something. Audet is encouraging Gasparilla attendees to do their part to keep the environment and the bay clean. For instance, carry extra bags to pick up litter, whether on land or on water.
If you'd like to participate in clean-up efforts after Gasparilla, visit this link.