After hosting an event to unveil the artwork of Frederick Stivers, the Seven Mile crew decided to attend a local beach clean up in the Big Pine Key area put on by Surfrider. Many of you who fish in the Keys are attentive enough to know that there are serious issues with micro plastic pollution and single use plastics that end up on the highway, which end up in the water, which eventually deeply effect the health of our ecosystems, namely the fish that we care about.
Joe Dahut, Sydney Loew, Jillian Tisdale, and Leota Davis at the Surfrider tent
Balloons, rope, plastic cutlery, styrofoam, tires, crab and lobster traps, bottle caps, plastic bottles, and other micro plastics littered the beach in front of us. Pelicans and seagulls dove in deeper water, and it got me thinking about how large of an impact all of this has on the water and the life surrounding us.
Beach clean ups are a drop in the bucket, let that be noted early on. There were several groups of Keys locals walking the beaches, mangroves, and lagoons with gloves, grabbers, and buckets looking for plastic, debris, and many other toxins that go unnoticed on a day of fishing. All of the work in an approximate three hour time period did not even scratch the surface, yet we seemed to come up with a mountain of trash that was in a radius that I would guess was less that one mile of shoreline.
A four hour cleanup produced this mountain of sh*t!
My first group of thoughts is this: we are coming into a time in the state of Florida where most of our visitors are coming from cold places. What is spectacular about new and seasoned visitors is that it gives us the opportunity to share our backyard with everyone. We are all guests on this planet, and a guest who leaves the house of the host a mess will likely never get invited back. I am not only talking to the folks that come down to enjoy the resource that we have here, I am talking to the locals that live and breath Florida Keys. What worries me is that in eco tourism, there is often far more take than there is give. And perhaps I am thinking in the spirit of the season, but it would make sense to me if we all concentrated on little changes that make a big difference.
Jillian and Leota hauling some crap off the beach!
A few challenges for anyone still reading (thank you, and pardon my rants). I would also like to approach this sensitive topic from this angle - know that I have committed all of these environmental sins fairly recently, and my pointing them out means that I am going to try my hardest to make sure I make them with less frequency. We all slip up, we all forget, but let this be a gentle reminder to think about your consumption and how it matters within the context of the environment where we spend so much of our recreational, and sometimes professional lives.
1. When you go to Publix, use re-usable bags. If you are reading this blog post and you do not have adequate funds to afford reusable bags, come into the store and I will personally give you as many as you need. Consider it a gift, an investment into our own ecosystem, and a great way to start a new habit in bringing your own bags. It does not only apply to the grocery stores in Florida, because we know that people from all over need something to carry their food in. It does not have to say the name of our shop on it, but I want to encourage anyone to try this method of shopping. This will piss people off when I say this, but using single use plastic bags from your local grocery store, regardless of if you use them again as a trash bag or a bag for your dog's waste, is part of the problem. Inevitably, you will throw that bag away, and it will go sight unseen to a landfill, or worse, the ocean, and will rot and fester for thousands of years. You can make a big difference in your direct environment when you choose where and how you shop wisely.
2. When you get take out food or drinks from a local establishment, try your hardest to bring a Yeti mug or cup, or even Tupperware if you plan on bringing food home. This is tacky. I know, because I've done it, and I often feel like an idiot when I walk into my favorite Chinese food spot and ask the people behind the counter if they wouldn't mind throwing my fried rice into a bin. A personal anecdote of my own shortcomings - since Covid, many restaurants and coffee stands refused my reusables because of health reasoning, which I find smart, reasonable, and understandable. This did, however, get me off course. I am just now starting to realize how time has slipped away from me, and my old habits have slipped in. Like I said before, I am sharing this because I have made all these mistakes, and will likely make them all again. This is a judgement free zone!
3. When you go fishing, walking, or boating, consider spending 10-30 minutes collecting rope, debris, or plastics from a shore line close to where you plan to fish. Not only will this put your day in perspective for you, but it is a great way to do more giving in a day surrounded by taking. Consider it meditative, and a way to center yourself before you head out to fish.
That being said, remember why you are fly fishing - because it is regenerative, relaxing, exciting, and fun. Again, I've made all the excuses for not picking up trash. If you don't believe me, check out a few:
"We don't have enough time, let's keep rolling"
"Won't make a difference"
"Not enough room on my paddle board to pick up all that sh*t over there"
Not any more. I am publicly telling you, that you have five minutes to spare. Don't forget to check in with yourself and really make sure you remember why you are doing what you are doing - because hopefully, you love it.
I do not want to be high and mighty about this, because I obviously am ready to admit that I have made the mistakes above. I want to make sure that everyone still reading knows that you can live by the mantra to give more, and take less. There is always more to give - whether it is money, time, or space. I have wrestled with the ideas above, and even debated posting them, as they will ruffle some feathers, undoubtedly. However, that is water under the bridge at this point. Things don't look great out there, and what we can do is try to be a little more considerate for the people that we know, and even those that we don't, that have yet to experience the beauty that is Florida Keys fly fishing.
OK, rant over. Go fishing, have fun, and don't forget to think! Also, big thank you to Whitney Wemett from Surfrider for putting on a great event, inviting us, and taking the photos included in this article.
Until next time,