When the party and the environment clash

Published on April 2nd, 2015

by Capt. Doran Cushing – St. Petersburg, FL
As captain of a chartered Leopard 39 catamaran, I participated in the 2015 Gasparilla Pirate Invasion Flotilla on Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay in Florida.

For anyone who not familiar with the Gasparilla flotilla event, it culminates with hundreds and hundreds boats, mostly power boats but some sailboats, escorting and motoring in very close quarters from Ballast Point in south Tampa, across Tampa Bay, north on Hillsborough Bay, and then north in the Seddon Channel to the basin in downtown Tampa where the “pirate ship” docks and the Gasparilla Parade begins down Bayshore Blvd.

The Gasparilla event, with many related activities, is essentially to attract tourism in the spirit of Mardi Gras. There’s lots of public drinking, landside floats in the parade, tossing beads, etc. It originally was a family event, marking the opening of the state fair which was then located just west of downtown Tampa. But over the years the rowdiness and bad behavior of the spectators forced the organizers to have two parades – one for children, one for adults.

However, my point is about the flotilla invasion…this armada of boats large and small. Not satisfied to toss and catch plastic beaded necklaces on the land parade route, the bead tossing is now a major part of the water-based activities. Literally thousands of strings of these plastic beads are tossed between boats – close by as well as beads being tossed from the spectators on land along the shores of Davis Islands and Channelside.

The end result is a vast majority of these plastic bead necklaces ending up on the bottom of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough Bay, and the Seddon Channel.

Boaters – both sail and power – are aware that it is illegal to dump plastic into the water…period. There are no exceptions to this law. But for some inane reason, this law is overlooked for the Gasparilla Invasion flotilla. We are not talking about a few strings of beads falling into the water. I witnessed hundreds and hundreds of beads missing their target and sinking to the bottom of the waters, and I was on one boat in one small part of the parade.

Water balloon launches between boats has long been banned due to the plastic waste ending up in the water. But those activities were miniscule in comparison to the strings of plastic beads which now adorn our bottomlands on local waters. That plastic will be there forever.

It’s time for the US Coast Guard and all of the local law enforcement authorities which join the flotilla to put a stop to this practice. It is unconscionable.

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