TAMPA, Fla. — If you plan on going to any of the fun parades and events in Tampa in the coming weeks, including Gasparilla, city leaders and environmental advocates want you to help keep beads out of the bay.
“We keep the beads on land. We don’t want any beads out in our bay,” said Mayor Jane Castor.
At events like Gasparilla, plastic beads are plentiful, yet advocates explain the impact plastic can have when it reaches the water.
“It starts to break down. Once it starts to break down, the chemicals get leached out into the waterway and really harm wildlife,” said Melissa Duke with the Florida Aquarium.
On Thursday ahead of several upcoming celebrations, Castor along with environmental advocates signed a pledge and announced the relaunch of “Bead Free Bay,” an initiative to protect marine life by keeping beads out of waterways.
Duke explains there are other implications of plastic and beads reaching waterways, like entanglements or ingestion.
“Once an animal actually ingests the beads, it fills up their stomachs. It makes them feel full. They don’t have as much nutrition as they need,” said Duke. “In addition, it bioaccumulates up the food chain once it reaches that microplastic stage.”
In 2019, the city says the Florida Aquarium sent divers into the water near Bayshore Boulevard right along the parade route and recovered 120 pounds of beads.
Larry Washington, the Director of Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management, said on Thursday the city of Tampa Solid Waste Department collects over 60,000 pounds of waste during Gasparilla.
“In addition to that, we collect around 4,000 pounds of beads as well. Some are reused,” said Washington. “They’re cleaned, sanitized, specifically sanitized, and if they are in good health as far as beads go, they are again reused for potential other events around the city of Tampa.”
The city says throwing beads or any other items into the water is prohibited, according to Florida Statute 403.413.
Advocates and city leaders urge people to recycle and repurpose beads after all the fun is over to help keep the bay bead-free.
“We want everybody to recycle those beads, and then those beads that are recycled often by charitable organizations are sold back to the different krewes in our communities,” said Castor. “You can do a lot of good for our environment and a lot of good for our charitable organizations by repurposing the beads.”