Houston Zoo Sea Lion Team Works to Remove Marine Debris

This post was written by Sophia Darling

A few Sundays ago, on March 29th, Houston Zoo sea lion team members Sophia Darling and Heather Crane, along with zoo volunteer Dale Martin, traveled down to the Surfside Jetty for the sea lion team’s monthly jetty cleanup. The Surfside jetty is a high volume fishing area, and especially now that the weather is warming up, you can find lots of people enjoying a beautiful day fishing off of the jetty and beach. Unfortunately, this comes with a cost. More often than not, the people visiting leave a trail at the jetty: aluminum cans, bait leftovers and containers, cigarette butts, and a lot of excess monofilament, more commonly known as fishing line. All of these items are described as marine debris – any man made item that ends up in the marine ecosystem, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside jetty.
This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside jetty.

Marine debris is a huge threat to marine life all over the globe. It poses many different hazards to local wildlife, most commonly ingestion and entanglement. The sea lion team decided it was time for action to be taken!! By partnering with NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) the sea lion team has had specially designed bins installed along the Surfside jetty, providing an easy and accessible location to properly dispose of fishing line. Once a month we go down to the jetty and spend a day emptying the monofilament bins and cleaning up the debris left over among the rocks.  This last Sunday we collected 15.4 pounds of recycling, 20.5 pounds of trash, and 1 pound of monofilament fishing line!

This is why it's so important to remove and recycle fishing line.
This is why it’s so important to remove and recycle fishing line.

And we really get into the cracks and crevices to get as much as we can!! Very often plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and large wads of monofilament will get trapped in the cracks between the rocks, and it takes a little extra effort to get it out.

Supervisor Sophia Darling does a handstand between the rocks to try and reach debris among a beautiful bed of anemones!
Supervisor Sophia Darling does a handstand between the rocks to try and reach debris among a beautiful bed of anemones!

Unfortunately, we cannot get to all the inhabitants of this marine environment in time. While climbing among the rocks, we found a local ray (we’re unsure of the species) that had been caught and hooked by someone’s fishing line, most likely un-intentionally. Unfortunately, the method taken to cut the ray loose did not do anything to help it. The line was cut about 10 feet from the hook lodged in the ray’s mouth, which was not removed.


There are so many things that we can do to help prevent debris from entering the marine environment, and prevention is our greatest ally! Avoid one-time use plastic and paper bags when going to the store, and bring your own thermos or cup when you visit your favorite local coffee shop. If you are going to visit the jetty, our beaches, or even a park, please, PLEASE, clean up after yourself. Make a goal for yourself, that for every visit you take to the coast, you will spend 20 minutes cleaning up a small area of the beach! Here in the city many of our storm drains and bayous lead to the gulf, so be aware of what enters our environment here! Even by overfilling your trash cans while they wait to be collected may lead to debris getting caught up in the wind. Always recycle. Every small thing that we can do can, and WILL, make a difference.

Since August 2014, the Houston Zoo sea lion team has collected 18 pounds of monofilament, 58.5 pounds of recycling and 82.5 pounds of trash from the Surfside jetty. We continue to get this message out in our shows here at the zoo, and we encourage anyone to come talk to us about marine conservation and what we can all do to help!!

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