Florida is often touted as the “Fishing Capital of the World” and it is estimated that 2.4 million anglers flock to the coast to enjoy saltwater fishing in Florida each year. While this is great news for coastal economies, wildlife can suffer injuries from contact with fishing tackle, fish carcasses, and other garbage associated with fishing activities. In Cedar Key alone, hundreds of injured birds have been reported to city officials and FWC staff over the past several years – up to 2 per week according to City Hall staff. Many of the birds suffer preventable injures such as accidental entanglement in fishing line or choking on improperly discarded fish carcasses. Until now, the demand for bird assistance was shouldered by only a few local Cedar Key residents and no formal system existed to help these birds.
Regional Sea Grant Extension Agent Savanna Barry worked in cooperation with the newly minted Cedar Keys Audubon chapter, the Cedar Key City Commission, FWC staff, and Nature World Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to address this need through a new program. A training held workshop on July 22nd, 2016 marked the official launch date of the Cedar Key Bird Rescue initiative. A group of 21 people were trained in safe bird handling and de-hooking techniques, bird transport protocol, and incident report data collection. Licensed wildlife rehabilitator Mary Opall of Nature World Wildlife Rescue in Homosassa, FL brought a live pelican and demonstrated proper handling techniques. Workshop attendees were able to practice bird handling skills with Mary’s guidance and reported a 60% average increase in their confidence to properly handle and rescue birds. At the end of the workshop, volunteers participated in the release of the live pelican, which had been rehabilitated by Mary and her staff. In total, 13 trained volunteers joined a phone tree that will be activated when an injured bird is reported, and will respond to calls as needed. “[This is] such a great collaboration” wrote one volunteer, while another stated “regarding the Bird Rescue Initiative, great ideas and long overdue”.
In addition to the training workshop and data collection, educational signage about bird-angler interactions will be placed at 5 locations around town in an attempt to reduce the occurrence of bird injury. The number and severity of reports over time will be tracked via incident reports and the hope for the program is that bird injury and death from unsustainable interactions with anglers will be reduced over the longer term. Cedar Key Bird Rescue is an example of a grassroots program that could be transferred to other coastal communities around Florida. Savanna Barry of the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station is tracking the success of the program and looking for opportunities to collaborate with other groups to initiate similar programs in other coastal towns.