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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field Note: Fishing Line Endangers Birds

Published: July 6, 2018


By Mark Seth Lender


A flock of terns in flight. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender, reflects on his tangle with a tern and fishing line on the 4th of July.

Fishing line is a worst enemy of birds. For all their visual acuity, there is something about it – the translucency perhaps, that confounds them. They tangle in discarded monofilament all the time. It severs their feet and tears up their insides if they swallow it. Wings are damaged. Throats encircled. Birds of all sizes and kinds can and frequently do die from encounters with fishing line. So when I see a tangle of line on the beach – careful of the hooks that may be hiding within – I put it in my pocket and take it away. It helps, it is not a lot of effort and in my experience most of us want to help.

While I was working to untangle the common tern of this story, two apparently contradictory events occurred. The boys and the bystanders all tried to help. They took my Leatherman out of my pocket for me (my hands were full of irate bird) and opened the pliers, and steadied me on the slip-sliding seaweed blanketing the rocks. They pinched the line where I told them to keep it slack. And then, they took out their phones and took pictures! Both things. Same people. At more or less the same time.

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Link to the original essay, "Tern About"

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