Written by Jane Lefave, Animal Care Professional & Member of the Zoo's Green Team
Lookout, pirates are invading Tampa Bay! Every January, thousands of people flock to South Tampa to celebrate the mythical pirate, Jose’ Gaspar (aka Gasparilla). According to the myth, Gaspar invaded Southwest Florida in the early 1800s. The celebration has become a Tampa tradition and the accompanying adult and children’s parade has grown to be the 3rd largest parade in the U.S. bringing together locals and tourists. The main event consists of a boat parade made up of hundreds of boats and a pirate parade on land down Bayshore Blvd.
Along the parade route, pirates toss coins, beads, and other souvenir trinkets to the crowds. As you can imagine, with over 300,000 people attending the parades, that adds up to a lot of goodies being tossed! While most of the trinkets are caught and collected by the crowds, there are inevitably lots left behind. Each year in the days following the parades, large groups of volunteers gather along the parade route for cleanup events. Last year, more than 1,600 bead necklaces alone were gathered up from land and shallow waters. But there are also many bead necklaces tossed from boats during the boat parade. Those necklaces fall into the deeper waters, and are left behind each year.
Why are we concerned? Necklaces left behind can be very harmful to the aquatic environment. They are shiny and attractive to fish and other aquatic wildlife, and sea life can become entangled.
How can you be a green swashbuckler?
- Avoid throwing bead necklaces into the water. If you plan to throw something from your boat or vantage point on land, choose something that is biodegradable and non-harmful to the environment. Encourage other “pirates” to do the same.
- In the days following the festivities, volunteer to help clean up. Join forces with local organizations such as Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and The City of Tampa that are working to ensure that the fun everyone has celebrating Gasparilla doesn’t end up harming our beautiful waterways and wildlife.
- Yo ho! As you celebrate the invasion along the Bay, remember to throw garbage in proper garbage cans. Don’t litter or you’ll walk the plank, ye scallywag!