Who Do You Blame For a Dead Spoonbill?

Nothing upsets the good folks in Gulfport more than a maligned animal. Trust me on this. So when I wrote an article about a roseate spoonbill that died tangled in fishing line in the Clam Bayou area, I knew letters would follow. Here’s the article; a letter and my response follow.

Fishing Line Kills Bird
By Cathy Salustri

While Councilwoman Michele King walked her dog through Clam Bayou on a recent Sunday morning, she noticed a dead roseate spoonbill hanging by one claw from a branch. She called Gulfport’s after hours number and requested someone come remove the bird.
Unfortunately, the police didn’t have a boat that could get into the Bayou to remove the bird. Police reports indicate that King told the police that “if we (GPD) doesn’t get 
the bird down Gulfport would be on the front page of the St. Pete Times.”
“I told them I didn’t want that bird to show up on the front page of the Times,” King said. “It was right about that time that Clam Bayou was in the Times. I thought if we didn’t take care of it somebody was going to take a picture of it and it was going to show up in the St. Pete Times.”
“It was a Sunday and I really didn’t want it hanging there when the kayakers came out,” King added. Police reports indicate that King told Officer Peter Horning “Never mind, I will call the City
Manager, he has a kayak and he can get the bird down.”
“It was a little frustrating,” King remembers “because he couldn’t get it down, and I was going to call Tom [Brobeil, Gulfport’s City Manager] and let him do it, but I didn’t have his number. As I got close to the marina, I thought ‘this is a better solution’, and I asked.”
King asked Tony Fields, the Marine Assistant at the 
Gulfport Marina to get the bird. Harbormaster Denis Frain said that when Fields called the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary they told him that they only dealt with live birds. Fields opted to swim over to the island to retrieve the dead 
King said that Fields told her the bird probably tried to get away but couldn’t because of the fishing line. “He also told me that it happened a lot, that it wasn’t that unusual,” despite Clam Bayou’s monofilament recycling tubes (white PVC tubes), King said.
After hours, City Manager Tom Brobeil said that anyone who finds a hazard or danger should call the police department’s non-emergency number at 893-1030. During business hours they should call Leisure Services Director Jim O’Reilly at 893-1067. Brobeil cautions that birds that have obviously died from getting tangled in fishing line do not constitute a public safety hazard, adding that citizens should do nothing in those cases.
“It’s an environmental hazard, obviously,” Brobeil said, but stressed that environmental hazards remain separate from safety hazards that would merit a call to the city. “We don’t have staff to go combing the mangroves for dead animals. Now, if I find that there’s a whole bunch of dead birds clustered in one area, that’s something we need to investigate.”
In short, Brobeil said the best course of action is to “do nothing. If a bird died from being tangled in line, you can’t save the bird’s life. The only thing you can do is before the fact- inform people that they shouldn’t cut their line, they should try to untangle it.”
You can reach Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@TheGabber.com.

In response, I received the photo above my article and the letter below:

Did Brobeil really say “do nothing” with the bird in the line? May have been the best course of action (legally) but a tasteless thing to say. What do you think when you see this picture? -Kurt Z, Kayak Nature Adventures

I responded as such:

On a personal rather than professional note, I think it may not have been the most tasteful thing to say but it was the reaction that had the best perspective. City managers and County administrators are paid to think before they react when everyone they answer to may be too busy reacting. If you look at the situation logically, you may agree with me that Mr. Brobeil had the best interests of the City at heart even if his words didn’t echo the emotion of other people in my article. I would also argue that Mr. Brobeil cares more about the ecology of this area than many others who stand before him at Council meetings, but he is not paid to rule according to his belief system; he is paid to carry out the wishes of the City.

I think that some fisherman was remarkably ignorant to have ignored the monofilament recycling containers.

I think everyone screamed to cut property taxes, so the notion that GP doesn’t have the staff to tend to this immediately comes as no shock to me. The question of humanity is moot since the bird was already dead, and Brobeil was, in this case, correct. There was nothing more to do for the bird. The correct course of action would have been to call FWC to come get the bird, as we (at the Gabber) have printed their direct request that citizens call them in these instances. Of course, they couldn’t do it immediately. Very few agencies would on a Sunday; bear in mind that the City’s ultimate response was to have a marina worker swim over and get the bird down. How lucky for Tony that the bird died from something non-communicable, as I’m fairly certain he couldn’t have carried a biohazard kit with him.

I think that if it had been me who had seen the bird, I would have gotten it down myself, as I believe you would have. So what stopped a citizen from getting the bird down? If you lack the physical resources to do just that, why not call Audobon or the Sierra Club or someone who actively lobbies for the environment? Why didn’t THOSE agencies step up? Why weren’t they called?

I think it’s a damn shame that some people have no regard for the creatures we exist beside. I kayak frequently- in fact, I just returned from a wonderful paddle down the Manatee River- and I see evidence of people’s ignorance or ambivalence or whatever you want to call it on every river I travel; some more than others. It has gotten better, but every now and then you see signs of idiots on the water. I can understand your frustration. But I worked for County government for a long time, and I’ve covered Gulfport for four years now. Citizens need to take responsibility for their actions rather than blame overburdened and underpaid government workers. I think Ms. King was truly concerned for the bird but, in the short term, more worried about how it looked than the ultimate best course of action. I am confident that she will, as an elected official, seek out a way to keep this from happening more- she has rallied around environmental issues in the past.

I think my words may sound heartless, but I hear people scream for the city’s help daily while also clamoring to cut taxes. Well, you can’t have both; we’ve cut taxes. People cannot expect the same level of service they did a year ago. How much would people scream if the City paid someone overtime to be on call for such instances?

I think my taxes were cut $30 and, in my book, it wasn’t worth it.

Professionally, I have no opinion. I covered the story because I was paid to do so, not because I was outraged by Brobeil’s comments, the city’s actions, or Ms. King’s comments. Removing emotions, I don’t know who was right and who was wrong. Professionally, I don’t care. If I start to care I report facts that fit only what I believe rather than equally presented sides of a story. And yes, Brobeil said “do nothing”. He stressed that it was because the bird had already died. I don’t think he feels that way about live birds, however you would have to ask him directly. I have always found him to be very accessible; if you feel the City needs to do something different, I suggest you call his office at 893-1010 and speak with him.

If I had a column in The Gabber I would probably use it next week to say exactly what I have just said to you and more about the ignorant buffoons who want to have Clam Bayou accessible but don’t think it’s their job to help preserve it and leave their line in trees. I would say that they must live under a rock the size of an 18 year old boy’s libido to live and fish in Florida and NOT know that when you fish you CANNOT CUT THE LINE.

Unfortunately I do not have a column; perhaps that’s for the best. So all I can do is report what is told to me and hope I’m asking the right questions to present the story equally.


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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.