Removing Derelict Crab Traps to Protect Marine Life
On Saturday, July 13, 2019, Clearwater Marine Aquarium worked together with Tampa Bay Watch, Ocean Aid 360, and Coastal Impact Fund to clean up marine debris in the Tampa Bay and Clearwater areas. The Ghost Trap Rodeo was a conservation project that focused on the removal of derelict crab traps, meaning those that have been left behind by fishermen or become lost.
The cleanup, which was approved by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was meant to reduce the dangers to larger marine animals and to prevent ghost fishing. Ghost fishing occurs when crab traps or fishing nets are lost or abandoned in the water and continue to catch animals. Since the fishermen are unable to locate or check these traps and animals cannot escape, they become deadly hazards to many marine animals. It is estimated that there are nearly 10,000 active ghost traps in Tampa Bay alone.
A Cause Closely Connected With Winter and CMA’s Mission
This year, FWC declared that traps needed to be removed by July 10 or permitted volunteers would be authorized to remove them. Over 800,000 blue crab traps alone are permitted annually, and it is estimated that 30-50% of these permitted traps are lost or abandoned. The traps that are left behind pose threats to marine animals and can result in bycatch incidents similar to the crab trap rope entanglement that caused Winter the Dolphin to lose her tail. In addition to Winter’s rescue, the CMA Rescue Team has responded to seven cetacean, four manatee, and nine sea turtle crab trap entanglements.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium welcomed the opportunity to participate in the Ghost Trap Rodeo because it supports our mission of rescue, rehab, and release. By removing the derelict blue and stone crab traps, it makes these areas safer for marine life and prevents potential entanglements – like Winter’s – in the future. Volunteers were able to spot the traps with the help of the buoys that were attached to them.
In 2002, the first volunteer trap cleanup took place and nearly 60,000 derelict traps were collected from the Gulf of Mexico. The summer closure season happens every other year on the Florida coastlines and is divided up by county. In even years, the summer closure season occurs on the east coast, while it occurs on the west coast in odd years.
Over 200 Ghost Traps Collected This Year
During this year’s Ghost Trap Rodeo, boats were stationed in Belleair, Courtney Campbell Causeway, Demen’s Landing, EG Simmons, Ft. Desoto, and Warner’s Bayou. Participants were out on the water from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. At the start of the event, a point of contact gave a brief educational presentation about the mission of the Ghost Trap Rodeo, how to record data, and FWC guidelines to follow while collecting the traps.
With the effort of more than 75 participants spread across the six locations, over 200 derelict traps were collected! The Ghost Trap Rodeo successfully aided in improving natural habitats for many marine animals, and hopes to continue making positive change in the Tampa Bay area in the future.