Weird UFO-looking disk found on beach ... but it’s not as unusual as you may think
A plastic disc as tall as a man and strung with knotty ropes like jellyfish tentacles was found marooned on Palm Beach over the weekend after traversing the tropical Atlantic as a fugitive.
Despite its sea-battered state, the contraption discovered Saturday was a sophisticated version of a fish aggregating device — an apparatus used often in waters off West Africa to attract tuna.
The devices, which can be as rudimentary as bamboo or oil jugs lashed together with netting hung beneath them, have been increasingly spotted on Florida beaches although scientists are unsure if it’s because there are more of them, or if people are just reporting them more.
If the devices find their way into the North Equatorial Current and are whisked toward the Caribbean, they can be harmful to the environment, bashing coral heads and drowning sea turtles in nets that dangle up to 300 feet deep.
Saturday’s find was made on the beach in front of the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course by a resident who didn’t know what the odd object was, but knew it didn’t belong there.
“He knew it was of enough importance to send me a photograph of it,” said Diane Buhler, founder of the non-profit Friends of Palm Beach, which regularly cleans the beach of trash. “The plastic would take forever to break down, but it does gather all the goodies, like barnacles, that attract the fish.”
The bump of Palm Beach County’s coastline makes it a hot spot for fish aggregating devices, or FADs, if they get caught in the Gulf Stream.
David Kerstetter, an associate professor with Nova Southeastern University’s Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences, said FADs have been found in the Gulf of Mexico, Ireland and the Azores as they travel the ocean currents.
Kerstetter, who monitors FADs through the Caribbean FAD Tracking Project, picked up the device found Saturday after Buhler brought it to her house. He said the project will log the details of the FAD in an effort to ultimately determine what impacts they may be having on the environment.
As with the more hi-tech FADS, the recent find came with about a 10-pound buoy that is solar powered and includes a GPS locator so fisherman can more easily find the device at sea.
Fish that congregate under the device are gathered by a “purse seine” — a large wall of netting that encircles an entire area or school of fish with a line that can close the net at the bottom.
Adult tuna, billfish and dolphinfish are the target catch for the FADS, but juvenile fish, sharks and other species also can get caught up in the catch.
The Pew Charitable Trust estimated that 81,000 to 121,000 FADS were deployed in 2013.
Buhler said her beach cleaners have found pieces of the devices for years, but didn’t know what they were until 2019 when a large plastic intact FAD similar to Saturday’s was found.
“The pandemic I’ve been dealing with for two decades now is plastics in the ocean,” Buhler said.
Who to call if you find a FAD
The Caribbean FAD Tracking Project is on Facebook @fadtrackers, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.