Campaign aims to keep Gasparilla beads out of water

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The Gasparilla Pirate Fest is just days away and a St. Petersburg charter boat captain is on a mission to keep as many plastic beads out of the water as possible.

Doran Cushing said he's been contacting parade organizers and the Coast Guard, and may turn to Tampa leaders to spread awareness about an issue he noticed last year.

"The people were throwing beads between the boats and 90-percent of them were landing in the water," he said, adding it's bothered him ever since. "We wouldn't think of throwing plastic bottles overboard. We wouldn't think of throwing our trash overboard. But somehow, one day a year, it's somehow okay to throw plastic beads overboard and that just doesn't make sense."

Eric Hoveland, the curator for the Florida Aquarium, said he realizes beads are a fun part of the parade, but he said they have no place in the water because they can be hazardous.

"They're literal lures and they might act like lures to fish that are diving and looking for those shiny little symbols that say, 'hey, that's a fish to eat!'" he said. "If they get hung up in that bead, it can get tangled, it can enwrap them."

Hoveland said, in 2015, he and volunteers picked up about 1,600 beads along the shore and in shallow water.

"Think of all the other beads that get into the water and go beyond our reach," he said, adding that's why he has some advice. "I like to say, 'practice responsible beading.' Know where your beads are going."

Hoveland said the outer coating on the beads can also be worn away by the salt, adding chemicals to the water.

Parade participants told FOX 13 they've received an email from organizers reminding them to keep the plastic out of the water, but they're not sure everyone listens.

"I know on our crew, most of us think about it, but I don't think anybody else really thinks too much about it," said Ernie Pine, who has been participating in the parade for five years.

Cushing is just hoping the added awareness will bring an eventual end to the boat-to-boat bead throwing.

"Hopefully there will be enough attention raised that people will think about it before they do it and eventually the practice can just be eliminated," he said.