April 17, 2019

Litter Fish Tournament participants gather at last year's award ceremony.

Contributed Litter Fish Tournament participants gather at last year's award ceremony.

ISLAMORADA — The Third Annual Litter Fish Tournament presented by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary 13-8 is taking shape, or rather, being organized since the targeted “species” — discarded trash — hasn’t yet been collected and mounded.

The competition isn’t strictly enforced and it’s free to enter. The object is simply to pick up the most trash from Florida Keys waterways by any means and measure it to collect an award.

In the event’s 2017 inaugural year, the Litter Fish competition netted about 3,800 cubic feet of trash, which visually stacks up to a 2.5 mile long wall of trash stacked nearly 3 feet high.

The competition has grown in stature and weight.

Patricia Marett, left, Jeanne Elliott, Susan Seay, Christine Walker, Renee Griffin, Beth Kennedy and Jo Anne Gardner won the Litter Fish Tournament last year. The seven women who are neighbors on Plantation Key collected enough trash to overflow a 20-yard Dumpster.

With about twice the contestants, and in Hurricane Irma’s aftermath, the amount of trash collected last year was by the tonnage, according to organizer Peter Fickinger.

“Last year, we had tonnage. We went from cubic feet to cubic meters because we had so much,” he said. “People were dragging in half boats and parts.”

The need to raise public awareness about marine debris is critical, according to Fickinger. He said he sees trash along the coastline and it’s devastating.

It’s easier to pick up plastic before it slowly breaks down into microplastics, or pieces smaller than a pinky finger nail. The afterlife of a plastic bottle, for example, may become microplastics that swirl as enormous garbage patches in oceanic gyres.

The Ocean Conservancy estimates 8 million metric tons of plastics end up in the ocean each year. New York recently became the third state to ban single-use plastic bags, joining a global effort to stymie the constant flow of plastics harming marine life like a dead whale found last month with 88 pounds of plastic in its belly.

The Litter Fish event, since its inception, has been sponsored by World Wide Sportsman, Bass Pro Shops and Islamorada Fish Company. They donate the items needed for the awards ceremony and the trash bin space. With so much Hurricane Irma debris still in local waters, the Oceanview Inn & Sports Pub stepped up to offer two additional trash bins.

Last year’s winning team, the Sea Sisters, have pledged to participate this year. The group of seven has grown to 12, according to Fickinger.

The Litter Fish Tournament is calling for additional teams to clean up their waterfront businesses.

“Waterfront restaurants can assemble a team, people who work at a marina or kayak shop,” Fickinger said.

The trash may be measured and disposed of at World Wide Sportsman by 5 p.m. Saturday, April 27, but attendance isn’t mandatory. Fickinger will accept entrants’ photos via email or text, with a measuring tape clearly showing the trash heap. Photos must be submitted by 5 p.m. as well.

All participants are invited to World Wide Sportsman for an awards presentation to the top three trash harvesters at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 28. Appetizers and refreshments will be served.

The World Wide Sportsman is located at 81532 Overseas Highway in Islamorada. Photos may be texted to Fickinger at 727-946-8049.