Monofilament fishing line is not good for the health of aquatic animals — and not just because fishermen use it to yank them out of the water, or because they’re made of plastic.
“It gets stuck in their bodies, and it gets caught around their necks,” said Karaugh-Nea Rodriguez. “The turtles think the plastic is jellyfish, and they eat it, and they don’t feel hungry anymore, and they starve to death.”
Rodriguez is an 11-year-old Girl Scout, and in a way, she’s the environmental hero we never thought we needed. When it came to people leaving fishing line strewn about around Van Cortlandt Lake, the Bronx River and Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field just off Jamaica Bay, Rodriguez swooped into action.
With her trusty industrial drill, Rodriguez built receptacles out of pipe elbows and attached them to posts around these fishing hotspots using polyvinyl chloride glue. She got help not only from the city’s parks departments, but also approached Lowe’s hardware store, which donated supplies to build the containers.
In addition, the city’s environmental conservation department also donated stickers that included instructions on how the receptacles should be used and the importance of recycling monofilament for aquatic animals.
“It wasn’t really hard because my dad showed me how to use the drill and showed me how to press down and go lightly so that it goes in,” Rodriguez said. “It got easier and easier until like it clicked, and it was actually really fun building.”
With her father’s help, Rodriguez built 12 fishing line receptacles, with four finding a home at Van Cortlandt.
Once she learned about the dangers of loose monofilament fishing line and how dangerous they were to animals from a wildlife enthusiast, Rodriguez started setting up meetings with parks department administrators
“When she first approached us she had a prepared pitch with cogent research,” said Margot Perron, president of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy. “I thought, ‘This girl knows what she is talking about and will keep her word if she commits to something.’”
Part of what inspired the project was a conversation with Keith White, a volunteer coordinator at Floyd Bennett. He told Rodriguez how his park needed fishing line receptacles on the beach and what the waste did to the wildlife. Leaving lining around is littering — technically a finable offense, Perron said — yet Van Cortlandt is filled with it, clinging not only to trees and bushes, but waterfowl as well.
“It’s really bad what’s happening,” Rodriguez said. “I felt like my project should be this because it’s important.”
Her parents also saw the significance of her project, her father Wilfredo driving her everywhere she needed to go to ask for donations, and carrying pounds of cement for her. Her mother Lazette also went with her when Rodriguez spoke with parks department administrators.
“They really encouraged me with this project,” Rodriguez said. “My mom was really supportive and my troop leader was like, ‘Way to go! You got this.’” That leader is Mirella Vargas of Troop 1096 in Throggs Neck.
However, when it came to wildlife, Rodriguez point of reference was Melissa Cohen, who was her project advisor. Cohen also is the regional fishery manager of fish and wildlife of the state environmental conservation division, and helped Rodriguez get in contact with the Bronx River Alliance and other groups.
A lot of research went into the early stages of the project, and Cohen helped make the process easier.
Caring for the environment is something that, unfortunately, isn’t shared by a lot of people, Perron said. But it is encouraging when such love for nature comes at a young age, as it did for Rodriguez.
“Thank goodness they are taking a stand,” Perron said. “We need more Karaugh-Neas who are ready to make a difference cleaning up our current environment and think to the future.”
However this isn’t the first time Girl Scouts have donned their Captain Planet hats in Van Cortlandt Park.
They also planted trees, pulled out invasive weeds, created “I Give a Hoot” buttons for the park’s bird-a-thon, and help with the Friends of Memorial Grove for Veterans Day each year.
“Karaugh-Nea’s project is different from the others because of her research, her genuine, individual caring about the environment, and her community,” Perron said. “She pitched the project to us. Usually we pitch a project to the Scouts.”
Rodriguez’s project was put to the test on Labor Day weekend, a popular time for anglers to hit the waterways. Rodriguez’s eco-friendly creations aced it, according to Perron. All the recycling bins around Van Cortlandt Lake had fishing line in them, and it seemed less line was found on the ground, in the water, and in the trees.
“I felt very proud of my project,” Rodriguez said. “And I felt very happy that anglers were actually using it.”