PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds chimed in on social media after a baby bird was photographed with a cigarette in its mouth on a Pinellas County beach.
Karen Mason snapped the photos of a black skimmer feeding a chick last week.
“I happened to see an adult giving a chick something. I knew it wasn’t a fish, but I couldn’t tell what it was,” she said.
She didn’t realize what was in its mouth until she got home.
“I put it on the computer and I blew it up and I saw it was a cigarette butt,” said Mason.
Mason, who helps educate people about birds as a bird steward, was furious. She posted the photo online, where it quickly sparked outrage.
“If that chick did actually swallow that cigarette, that chick is probably history,” she said.
Keep Pinellas Beautiful removed more than 614,000 lbs. of trash from around the county last year.
“Cigarettes are the number one littered item in the world,” said Executive Director Pat DePlasco. “There are more cigarettes on the ground than there is in a combination of other items.”
She said seeing the picture is disheartening.
“People don’t think cigarette butts are litter. They think, oh it’s paper. Well, it’s paper and toxic chemicals and it’s also plastic and it is extremely harmful for not only ourselves, but it’s harmful for the environment,” said DePlasco.
Mason hopes her picture sparks change.
“You have little kids out there that are going to be picking this stuff up and who knows what your kid is going to pick up and stick in their mouth,” she said.
Littering is prohibited on all Pinellas County Beaches.