The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge and Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance have partnered on a project to prevent native wildlife from becoming entangled in deadly fishing line.

Interns from the ECWR moved methodically from one end of the pier to another recently, emptying colorfully painted fishing line recyclers of their tangled contents.

Begun in 2014 as part of a Destin Forward class project, CBA’s monofilament recycling program combines art and conservation to protect the waterways from cast-off fishing line. Hundreds of birds, fish, and land animals are snared in fishing line every year, causing both injury and death. Unfortunately, fishing line takes over 500 years to break down.

“We partner with local artists to decorate the bins,” said Alison McDowell, director of CBA. “They attract positive attention, so people want to recycle their fishing line.”

Currently, bins have been set up in Veterans Park, Ross Marler Park, the Okaloosa Island pier, the Destin harbor, Bluewater Bay Marina, Nick’s Seafood Restaurant, Cessna Park, and Thomas Pilcher Park, with more to come. All fishing line is sent to the Berkley facility in Iowa, where it is recycled into other plastic products, like tackle boxes.

“It’s a win-win,” McDowell said, “We both recycle and keep our waterways clean!”

Staff at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge see the negative effects of discarded fishing line first-hand.

“With our current location being right next to the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, we can sometimes receive multiple shorebirds per day!” said Michelle Pettis, ECWR wildlife rehabilitator. “Interns get dispatched to rescue hooked or entangled pelicans, gulls, terns, and even ospreys from the pier throughout the week. Many of these birds get hooked as they dive in to steal a fish on the end of a line, or they become entangled in fishing line that was not disposed of properly.

“Since our interns have joined forced with CBA to help empty the fishing line containers on these local piers, we have seen a small decrease in entangled birds coming from that specific area," she added. "Needless to say, we are excited to be a part of this program that helps saves shorebird lives!”

Beginning in summer of 2018, interns at the refuge collect the monofilament at bins at all three Okaloosa Island locations. In the future, CBA hopes to expand to more locations, with additional community and stakeholder partners. Together, they can work toward CBA’s mission to improve swimmable, fishable waterways in Okaloosa and Walton counties.

“The monofilament recycling project is a great way for everyone to do their part and contribute to the welfare of wildlife,” said Lauren Smith, ECWR intern, “It’s a simple and easy way to prevent unnecessary wildlife injuries.”