NAPLES — Tuesday was cleaning day at a popular Collier County fishing spot.
A crew of divers hauled up at least 500 pounds of debris — cast nets, fishing line, lures, anchors, crab traps and ropes — from the Santa Lucia artificial reef about two miles west of Gordon Pass.
"I think we put a nice little dent in the reef," said Bryan Fluech, marine science extension director in Collier County for the University of Florida, back at the docks at Port O'Call Marina after the morning trip to the reef.
The Santa Lucia reef, named for its 46-foot concrete Cuban turtle boat surrounded by concrete pilings, attracts a ton of fish but also snags fishing gear.
Abandoned gear can harm marine life, which can get tangled in it or ingest it, and also poses an entangling hazard for the gear of other anglers fishing the reef.
Eight divers in three boats combed the reef for a couple of hours, hauling up baskets of debris on air-filled lift bags from 20 feet below. Visibility was low, but the reef was full of action.
Bottlenose dolphins circled the periphery of the reef, while mackerel attracted by balls of schooling baitfish burst across the surface of the water. Divers saw snook, goliath grouper and snapper — but no dead marine life.
The cleanup crew included the extension service, Collier County's Sheriff's Office, city of Naples workers, the county's environmental services department, Naples dive shop SCUBAdventures and Grand Slam Charters. The annual cleanups started in 2008.
"It would be nice to do it more," Grand Slam Charters Capt. Will Geraghty said, adding that it seems the amount of debris pulled off the reef decreases each year. "We're doing a decent job maintaining it."
Fluech urged anglers to be mindful of keeping debris out of the water by storing it onboard in containers with lids and by picking up trash when they see it. Using the right weight of line and the correct rigging knots also can reduce broken lines, he said.
"What we do topside sometimes can have an impact," Fluech said.