While much of the Florida coast is closed to the public, one conservation nonprofit is taking advantage of the empty waterfront to clean up the local pier – and help the local marine life in the process. 

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center's Katie O'Hara removing debris from an underwater pier
Conservation manager Katie O'Hara cuts debris loose from the pylons © Sam Farkas

At the start of the month, two divers from Juno Beach’s Loggerhead Marinelife Center – a 501(c)3 in Palm Beach County dedicated to ocean conservation, education, and sea turtle research and rehabilitation – participated in the second local underwater pier cleanup of COVID-19, representatives said last week, clearing out some 21.5 pounds of debris in a single hour. LMC typically conducts quarterly cleanups at the pier, but now that it’s closed, the organization’s conservation team is stepping up its regimen.  

Loggerhead Marinelife Center's Brian Robertson cleaning up the underwater pier
LMC's Brian Robertson untangles a snagged line © Sam Farkas

"The more lines that accumulate under the pier, the more likely additional lines will become snagged. This creates an underwater web, which poses a severe threat of entanglement to sea turtles and other marine life,” conservation manager Katie O'Hara tells Lonely Planet, noting that the last cleanup saved two crabs from entanglement in the braided lines they found hugging the pylons. 

Katie O'Hara cleans the underwater pier
O'Hara says conducting these cleanups during sea turtle nesting season is "especially important" © Sam Farkas

“Conducting underwater cleanups during sea turtle nesting season in Palm Beach County (March-October) is especially important,” she adds. “It is critical to remove fishing lines and gear gathered under the pier to reduce the threat of entanglement for sea turtles who are coming in large numbers to nest on our shores. And the same applies to hatchlings who are making their initial entrance into the ocean."

In the past five years, LMC has removed more than 22,919.23 pounds of debris during beach cleanup activities, and last year alone, the nonprofit recycled more than 312 miles of monofilament – enough to reach from Juno Beach to Georgia if unfurled.

A sea turtle patient named Geo Jr. receives treatment at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida
The LMC is dedicated to the conservation of ocean ecosystems, especially those that affect threatened and endangered sea turtles © Loggerhead Marinelife Center

During the pandemic, the education and ocean conservation facility is closed to the public, but in the meantime, it’s offering a daily virtual class to let armchair viewers learn about ocean conservation and visit with the sea turtles being treated on the premises.  

“Removing the marine debris that's collected under the pier helps create a safer environment for marine life, especially for nesting and hatching sea turtles," O’Hara says. "While it is unfortunate that the Juno Beach Pier is temporarily closed to anglers and spectators, it is an opportunity for LMC's Conservation Department to deploy trained divers to conduct more underwater cleanups at the pier.”

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