North Carolina

Haunting image of dead snake at Jordan Lake illustrates growing wildlife threat in NC

Image of a banded water snake that died at Jordan Lake while tangled in a netting that had been thrown away by a park visitor.
Image of a banded water snake that died at Jordan Lake while tangled in a netting that had been thrown away by a park visitor. Photo: B Everett Jordan Dam & Lake, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

A haunting photo of a snake that died struggling to free itself from a maze of netting has come to illustrate the growing threat abandoned fishing gear is having on wildlife in North Carolina.

Trashed fish lines and nets have long been blamed for marine life deaths off the coast, but the same plastics are also taking a toll along interior waterways, like the Jordan Lake east of Raleigh, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Littered fishing line and fishing net pose a significant challenge to fish and wildlife on and around Jordan Lake,” said a warning issued Wednesday on the B. Everett Jordan Dam & Lake Facebook page.

“We have recently seen a number of incidents of animals being harmed... The other week, a visitor assisted an osprey trapped in the river, snagged by fishing line... We’ve also recently found a cormorant that will likely be unable to swallow again due to line caught around its beak and throat, as well as a heron with hooks snagged in its neck.”

Photos of injured birds were included with the post, along with the corpse of a banded water snake that died after days of fighting to free itself from a tangle of netting. “I was too late to save it,” the Facebook post said.

The photos have prompted an outcry on social media, with commenters labeling them infuriating, “heartbreaking” and “totally sickening.”

“Sadly it’s the same from the mountains to the coast,” wrote Larry Pugh on the Jordan Dam & Lake Facebook page. “Our world has turned into their trash can.”

Corps of engineers officials say they intend to be more aggressive in issuing citations at Jordan Lake, including the possibility of “a mandatory federal court appearance.”

The National Audubon Society reports plastic pollution has become “a menace to birds,” thousands of which are snagged and tangled in fishing line each year.

“Ubiquitous in waterways, from the Pacific Ocean to manmade urban ponds, lost or abandoned line injures hundreds of species,” the society reported in June 2018.

“In Florida, for instance, biologists reported that line kills more pelicans than any other hazard. Meanwhile, in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of Osprey nests are lined with the material. Derelict line, which takes hundreds of years to biodegrade, likewise menaces marine mammals and sea turtles,” the society said.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.