Monofilament’s Hold on Birds and the Environment

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We at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center (FKWBC) help many different types of birds with various injuries arising from different circumstances. This includes birds that have fallen victim to improperly discarded monofilament, also known as fishing line. Monofilament is single stranded high density nylon and is tough stuff. Think about all the different types of fish that are caught using monofilament. Species of Grouper and Tarpon, two common game fish, can easily exceed 50 pounds and require a strong material that won’t snap while reeling them in. In fact, monofilament is so strong, it takes over 600 hundred years to break down into microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic) within the environment (i). Since monofilament is non-biodegradable, it has the potential to create environmental hazards for hundreds of years if not properly recycled.


Monofilament reaches the environment through three primary routes: re-spooling, breakage of line while fishing, and improper disposal of used line. Once in the environment, monofilament can entangle birds and other wildlife, causing starvation, predation susceptibility due to entrapment, infection, and limb amputation. Secondly, if monofilament is ingested by birds or wildlife because it’s mistaken for food, these animals can become poisoned, choke, and clog their digestive systems which eventually leads to death. As an example of the severity of accidental ingestion, a recovered turtle was once found to have consumed 590 feet of heavy-duty fishing line in New York State (i)!


You would be mistaken to believe that monofilament affects only wildlife. Scuba divers can become entangled while underwater and deplete their oxygen tanks before becoming untangled. Additionally, boat propellers can become clogged by monofilament. Surveys have shown that 25-30% of all boat motor repairs are associated with monofilament entanglement on the propeller or the shaft (i).

How do we deal with all the spent monofilament that’s generated each day? Disposing of it in the regular trash is likely the first solution most individuals would think of. Unfortunately, once the monofilament line reaches the landfill, scavenging animals like gulls can bring it right back into the environment or to their nest. Furthermore, since monofilament is a high density plastic, it requires a special recycling process and cannot go into most household recycling bins.

The need for proper disposal of monofilament led to the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP). The MRRP facilitates and encourages proper recycling of monofilament and helps keep it out of the environment. Monofilament recycling programs function in most Florida counties, over 23 states, and the Caribbean (ii). Through partnerships with businesses and organizations, the MRRP has created a growing network of clearly labeled outdoor PVC containers and indoor recycling bins for monofilament line. These can be found at marinas, piers, nature centers, tackle shops, and fishing sections in department stores. Monofilament collected in these containers is then sent to Berkley (Pure Fishing Company) to be recycled. Since 1990, Berkley has recycled over 9 million miles of fishing line (iii). That’s enough monofilament to circle earth’s equator over 361 times!


There is a lot all of us can do to keep the environment we depend on and the animals we love healthy. The next time you’re fishing, or even if you stumble upon monofilament line in the environment, look around for a MRRP recycling container or go to your nearest tackle shop or fishing store. Recycling locations in Florida can also be found on the MRRP website. If there are no monofilament recycling locations in your area, encourage these businesses or organizations, whether tackle shops or marinas, to get involved with monofilament recycling and visit mrrp.myfwc.com.

For more information on monofilament, the MRRP, and how you can get involved, visit mrrp.myfwc.com. By growing and maintaining a robust MRRP, we can help keep our feathered friends flying far into the future.

Steven Warchocki, FKWBC Intern, 2016.

References
(i) MRRP Education Materials
(ii) MRRP Programs
(iii) Berkley (Pure Fishing Company)

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