A recent fishing trip to the ocean waters off Palm Beach brought to mind something that has been a problem for years: there’s plenty of garbage in the Atlantic off the coast of South Florida.
In addition to seeing bits of plastic, cardboard bait boxes and drink containers drifting in a line of sargasso weed south of Lake Worth Inlet, where we were trolling for dolphin, my son and I recovered four party balloons found drifting on the surface.
The balloons had been released, either intentionally or accidentally, and had gone from being festive decorations to ocean rubbish.
Balloons and other types of ocean garbage can harm or even kill sea turtles.
“Turtles are voracious,” said Larry Wood, a conservation biologist with the Palm Beach Zoo and longtime sea turtle expert. “They don’t always carefully discriminate what they’re eating.”
No, balloons don’t always kill sea turtles. But they have. And they can weaken the turtles, making them susceptible to other diseases.
Ingested ocean trash can cause sores in the gastrointestinal tracts of sea turtles, said Allen Foley, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“There are cases of animals that have eaten litter that eventually get sick and die,” Foley said.
Endangered leatherback sea turtles are especially vulnerable because deflated balloons can resemble jellyfish, their favorite food, said Hannah Campbell, science educator with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.
State law forbids the intentional release of 10 or more balloons in one day if the balloons are inflated with lighter-than-air gasses such as helium that will cause them to drift away to places such as the surface of the ocean.
Now that warmer weather has arrived and the sea turtle nesting season is in full swing, boats are another hazard for sea turtles.
Because they must surface for air, several sea turtles are hit and injured by boats every year, said Paul Davis, director of Environmental Enhancement and Restoration for Palm Beach County. Boaters running the coastline should, if possible, avoid the reefs where sea turtles like to linger and feed.
“We try to remind boaters that if they can run inside the reef or outside the reef, they reduce their chance of hitting a sea turtle,” Davis said.
Free vessel exams
Members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary will offer free vessel examinations and answer questions from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. today at the West Marine store, 2275. S. Federal Highway in Delray Beach.
As part of National Safe Boating Week, the volunteer auxiliary members also will offer free vessel exams (essentially, equipment checks) from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tuesday near the boat ramps at Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park in Boynton Beach. They also plan to offer free vessel exams from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday at Knowles Park in Delray Beach.
For information on boating safety in Florida — including information on getting a boater safety ID card — go to www.myfwc.com/boating. Florida law requires anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 to complete a boating safety course and obtain a boating safety ID card to operate a powerboat with 10 horsepower or more.
Hospice charity event June 1
The Sail Inn tavern in Delray Beach will hold its fourth annual fishing tournament June 1 to benefit the Hospice of Palm Beach County Foundation. Anglers will fish for kingfish, dolphin and wahoo and a mystery fish.
The entry fee is $175 per boat. The tournament begins with a captain’s meeting set for 5 p.m. May 30 at the Sail Inn tavern, 657 George Bush Blvd., Delray Beach. The weigh-in will be held at Veteran’s Park in Delray Beach.
For details, go to www.sailinnkdw.com.