Wildlife advocates clean up harmful debris around Prospect Park’s lakeside

Wildlife advocates clean up harmful debris around Prospect Park’s lakeside
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A group of nature-lovers got down and dirty in Prospect Park on Saturday to help keep the wildlife of Brooklyn’s backyard out of harm’s way.

Hazardous fishing line, barbed hooks, dumped barbecue charcoals, rusty soda cans, and even a dead rooster stowed inside a paper bag were some of the many harmful items that a bunch of do-gooders found in and around the greenspace’s popular lake during a cleanup of the lakeside organized by Wildlife Interests, Learning and Development for Prospect Park.

Members of the group, along with some members of the Brooklyn Young Democrats and other volunteers, rolled up their sleeves, broke out the litter picker-uppers, and filled up more than 10 trash bags of improperly discarded waste at the afternoon cleanup. “We focus on the debris that’s harmful to the wildlife, such as fishing line, fish hooks, and plastic bags, which we always find in the lake,” said Mary Beth Artz, a founding member of the group.

The wildlife conservation group, formed in 2010 by a handful of like-minded community members who came together after federal agents slaughtered more than 250 geese in Prospect Park, has worked since its inception to clean up around the banks of the 60-acre lake during the warmer months.

“We find everything,” said Artz, who added that at the June cleanup participants even pulled out algae-covered men’s underwear from the lake.

One of the most dangerous items that Artz said the group finds all too often are barbed fishing hooks, which are illegal to use while fishing at the lake.

Fishing in the lake is legal with a license, and the park has bins for anglers to discard hooks and line, but Artz said that sometimes fishermen are careless with their tackle, and non-fish end up suffering.

“Barbed hooks are designed to impale flesh and keep the fish on the hooks,” said the lifelong Windsor Terrace resident. “If it will keep the fish on the hook, it will also hurt humans or a dog.”

Most recently a trio of swans living in Prospect Park’s lake were saved by humans after getting stuck by barbed fishing hooks that were haphazardly tossed into the water.

“We have been very concerned by the numerous incidents over the past few years where birds and other animals at the lakeside needed rescue and rehabilitation because they were impaled by fishing hooks or other litter,” said group member David Karopkin, who also belongs to the Brooklyn Young Democrats.

Karopkin coordinated some members of the political group to come help out with the cleanup.

“I think both groups share a passion for taking an active role in making our communities better places, and in this case, our parks,” he said.

Artz said that when the group goes out to scour the banks of the lakeside for hazardous materials, the cleanup doubles as an opportunity to educate park-goers and raise awareness about the plight of wildlife in the greenspace.

“Our whole focus is getting people to understand — don’t leave the hooks, don’t leave the fishing line, because the birds will get strangled, ingest it, and die,” she said. “If it doesn’t get picked up, it’s a danger to wildlife.”

The Prospect Park Alliance, which manages the park, said it does not have the authority to enforce fishing regulations. But Wildlife Interests, Learning and Development for Prospect Park is doing everything it can to make people aware.

“Unless they know, they won’t know, so we’re trying to help everybody,” Artz said.

The group’s next lakeside cleanup will likely be in mid-July.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.