PINE ISLAND SOUND, Fla. (AP) — Like the flag of a defeated army, the dead frigatebird hung limp and battered from a tree on an island in Pine Island Sound — another victim of abandoned fishing line.
Thirty yards away, a frigatebird carcass floated in the shallow water by the island, fishing line tightly wrapped around its body, right wing and neck.
These were but two of the thousands of birds that will be killed by abandoned fishing line this year in Florida.
Statistics are scarce, but studies show that 700 brown pelicans die in Florida every year from being entangled in monofilament line — these studies deal only with one bird species and don't include braided fishing line, which is becoming increasingly popular among fishermen.
So far this year, 43 entangled birds have been taken to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel — one was dead on arrival; seven died at the clinic despite treatment; 13 were so badly injured that they had to be euthanized; the rest have been released or are candidates for release.
"This is a big problem, a real problem, a severe problem," CROW executive director Peg Albert said. "And it's not just here. It's in all coastal areas."
Careless fishing practices are the cause of many bird entanglements:
An angler gets hung up in mangroves, on a dock or an oyster bar, and rather than retrieving his gear, he cuts the line.
Then a bird becomes entangled in the line and eventually dies from drowning, starvation, dehydration or strangulation.
Birds aren't the only victims of abandoned fishing line.
"It's a very big issue for manatees, both in the sense of ingestion and attachment," John Cassady, head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's southeast manatee program, said. "The most prevalent problem is entanglement on flippers.
"Once the manatee is entangled, the line slowly digs into the flipper, and it gets deeper and deeper. We've had flippers amputated in the wild from fishing line, and we've done surgical amputations."
Sea turtles are also susceptible to entanglement.
From 1986 through 2009, the Florida Sea Turtle Strandings and Salvage Network documented 755 sea turtles from five species entangled in monofilament fishing line; half of those were dead.
"It's pretty common," FWC research administrator Anne Meylan said. "Sometimes it's loose line; sometimes the hook is still attached. I've seen the deaths of little green sea turtles from fishing line hanging down from the mangroves. It's a ubiquitous item in the environment."
Far more sea turtles are entangled than are documented because many entangled turtles don't wash ashore or wash ashore in isolated areas such as the Everglades.
Using data from 1997 to 2009, researchers showed an upward trend in bottlenose dolphin entanglements, Kim Bassos-Hull, senior biologist for the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, said.
"We're looking at certain areas of the state that are hot spots," Bassos-Hull said. "It appears there are a couple of hot spots on the west coast — in Charlotte Harbor and southern Pine Island Sound — and Brevard County is probably the biggest problem area in the state.
"Those are big fishing areas, and anywhere you see a lot of fishing, there's a the potential for gear to go into the water, and those areas become hot spots."
The researchers analyzed 1,958 entanglement cases, which included crab and lobster trap gear and other gear, involving dolphins (132 cases), manatees (433 cases) and sea turtles (1,393 cases); they found that 70 percent of the total were due to hook-and-line gear.
Until recently, the major culprit in fishing-line entanglements has been monofilament line, but an increasing number of animals are being tangled up in braided line.
Some research indicates that braided line is worse than monofilament.
One study showed that braided line is "significantly more abrasive" on and cuts deeper into bottlenose dolphin tissue than monofilament.
"We're seeing more braided line, and it is a cause for concern," Bassos-Hull said. "Tests have shown it's fatal faster."
Two reasons braided line is worse than monofilament are its strength and shape, Cassady said.