Entanglements due to fishing line
January 10, 2018

by Liezl Retief

She was well known by our researchers. Her light colouration meant she stood out from the rest. Pearl was a White-fronted Plover never to be forgotten. She lived happily on the Nature’s Valley beach, spending her time with the likes of some beautiful male plovers such as Fred and Ed, trying to raise families as best she could. Nothing could suggest that disaster would strike in such a cruel and abrupt way!

Just as the 2017/2018 breeding season commenced, researchers noticed something disconcerting – little Pearl had clearly gotten herself entangled in some fishing line!! The line had wrapped around both her legs and the blood supply to her feet was cut off, to such an extent that the bones in her feet became exposed and it was clear she was in severe pain. Although she did manage to cling to life for a short while, soon she disappeared completely, most likely struck down in her prime by this hardy and widespread form of pollution!

Fishing line entanglement of marine species is a global phenomenon, affecting more than 200 species of marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, fish and invertebrates. Most fishing line consists of monofilament, a strong, flexible non-biodegradable plastic that can last up to 500 years in the environment. As it is clear and thin, discarded fishing line is often difficult to see, making it easy for animals to become entangled in it when accidentally brushing up against it. Alternatively, birds can confuse fishing line with nesting material, or, if hooks and lures are still attached, mistake it for food, becoming entangled when trying to pick it up or ingest it. Sadly, entanglement in fishing lines can often have severe effects on individuals, resulting in injury, such as loss of limbs, drowning, strangling and starvation and is seen as a particularly lethal form of marine pollution, as can be seen from the example mentioned above.

Most fishing line in the water or on the shore ends up there when fishing hooks become caught on something, resulting in the line breaking when being pulled. Unfortunately, the nearly pristine beaches we are used to in this little stretch of the Garden Route are not exempt from this horrific type of pollution. As part of the #ShareTheShores campaign, Nature’s Valley Trust monitors the amount and types of litter found on our beaches and, worryingly, has found that around 39% of the debris scattered around our shores between June 2015 and December 2016, was fishing-related!

So what can be done? Discarding fishing lines in normal garbage bins is not a solution as this only moves the problem elsewhere and has a high probability of entering the natural environment again by blowing out garbage bins or landfills, or by removal by birds and/or other animals. Placing a fishing line in a normal recycling bin is also not the answer; monofilament is a high-density plastic and therefore needs to go through a specific recycling process, only done by some recycling companies. Moreover, unlike single filament, nylon fishing line, fishing line containing wire or braided lines, can usually not be recycled at all.  

As a result, proper disposal of fishing line is imperative to stem further risks to our wonderful marine and terrestrial wildlife. To aid in this, Nature’s Valley Trust has erected Fisherman’s bins at every entrance of Nature’s Valley’s Beach where fishing refuse can be disposed of. Everything deposited in these fisherman’s bins is collected and quantified each month, decreasing the amount of fishing line left in the environment. After analysing the data from these fisherman’s bins, NVT sends the collected fishing line to Plastics SA for proper processing into new products.

Will this be enough? Will we still come across some poor creature with this cruel line having mercilessly entangled its limbs? It seems more heart-breaking situations are destined to reoccur. Whilst out on the beach we see her hobbling along, she seems like an apparition from our past. This beautiful little female reminds us of little Pearl in one specific, and heart-wrenching way – she too is missing both feet, the raw bones sticking out and making walking around difficult. Was she also struck down by the ruthless fishing line which seems to be ever-present on our shores? These unhappy stories happen all too often and most certainly do not occur in isolation! In fact, our researchers often come across Kelp Gulls hobbling along on one foot or White-fronted Plovers stumbling along the coast on stub legs. Recently, we have even come across a fresh carcass of a Kelp Gull inextricably entangled in a wad of fishing line mercilessly discarded on Lookout Beach! Very cruel and unnecessary, don’t you think? What can be done to stem this butchery and torture by this twisted and silent killer known as fishing line?

The truth is that we all need to work together. We must become more environmentally conscious and not let our quest to live sustainably and in harmony with nature fall by the wayside.  Therefore, to help reduce further negative environmental impacts we should all regularly check for frays in our fishing lines, which may cause it to break easily. We should make use of the fisherman’s bins situated at our beach entrances and discard our own, and other improperly discarded line, in them. Finally, we should become ambassadors – motivating others to reduce their fishing refuse. Hopefully, as more people realise the need to responsibly share our shores with our marvellous wildlife, fewer incidences such as that of pretty little Pearl will occur. 

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