This Florida Native is Using Creativity to Clean Up the Coast
How Marissa Williams cleans up the shoreline and transforms hundreds of trashed lures into treasures
Marissa Williams was on her daily paddleboard excursion six years ago in Sanibel Island’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge when she noticed that the mangrove shoreline was festooned with fishing lures and line. Frustrated with the litter, she started plucking it out of the bushes, piling up fishing line, braided line, hooks and plugs on her board. Over the months, the litter collecting became a casual habit, but one day, as she followed a length of fishing line deeper into the mangroves, it led her to a tangled ibis skeleton.
“The thought of that animal caught there with no way out made me angry. How could someone just leave all that stray line out there?” she says.
Williams made cleaning up that 100-foot stretch of shoreline her mission. She returned for the next five days, extracting line and a total of 173 rather expensive lures. But on the last day, something shocked her: There were more lures in a section she had cleared the previous day.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Okay, somebody needs to make a difference.’”
Later, when she posted photos of the lures on social media, folks offered to buy them, and she came up with a plan. She’d refurbish them with new split rings and hooks, sell them and donate the proceeds to environmental charities.
“I didn’t want to give the money to a big national charity. I wanted the impact in my backyard,” she says. Among others, she’s donated to Captains For Clean Water, which fights to restore the Everglades and limit toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee; the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation; Sanibel’s Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife; and Juno Beach’s Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which rehabilitates sea turtles.
Her customers are often parents buying packs of lures for their kids.
“They want to tell their kids that story,” she says. Though Williams founded her shop, Salt Collins Lures, in Sanibel Island, she has since moved to Stuart and continues to collect trash and lures from the shoreline wherever she paddles or fishes. And she’s still finding plenty of motivation.
“One day we found five pelicans on the same shoreline. Two were dead and three still had a hook and line on them,” she says. During another incident, she was pulling line from a tree and the line took off.
One of the first things my mom did was put me in the pool out back. There are pictures of me swimming around looking like the baby on the Nirvana album cover.
— Marissa Williams
“I thought, what the heck could this be? Is it a fish? It was a pelican in a tree a couple hundred yards down. There was that much line out,” she recalls. Williams has also seen stone crabs wrapped up in braided line and lures snagged on mangrove roots with fish stuck to them.
Most fellow anglers are happy to see her making a difference, but she recently had one fisherman motor up and tell her not to touch a section of shoreline.
“Dude, you just got here. I’m just trying to clean up, and I’ll get out of your hair,” she said to him. “He was like, ‘I’m just trying to fish.’ I was like, ‘This is me not giving a fuck. Thank you.’”
Williams, 37, grew up in Jupiter, but went to several different schools up and down the Eastern Seaboard as her parents navigated their divorce. Though her upbringing was nomadic, being on the water was a constant.
“One of the first things my mom did was put me in the pool out back. There are pictures of me swimming around looking like the baby on the Nirvana album cover. And both my dad and my stepdad liked fishing. When I was little, I thought of it as a punishment—‘You messed up, and I have to keep an eye on you. So, we’re going to wake up at 5 a.m. and go fishing.’”
She surfed Juno Beach and Jupiter as a teen and went on to study math at Florida Atlantic University and biomedical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.
“When I was done, I did not care if I had a job or not,” she says. “I was like, ‘It’s cold, I need to leave.’ I ended up moving to Sanibel Island.”
It was there that she picked up fly-fishing when she was 35. She now has 10,600 followers on Instagram, where she posts images of her lure finds, her far-flung fishing adventures and her latest drone photography. She’s recently spied manta rays, sawfish, leatherback turtles, hammerhead sharks and even an albino green turtle off Stuart. She finds the amount of sea life both astounding and motivating.
“We have to take care of what we enjoy,” she says. “We enjoy being on the water, we enjoy fishing, we enjoy healthy fish, but that doesn’t just happen. Those sharks, those manta rays and tarpon are all local creatures. What we do makes an impact on them. And if we want to keep enjoying them, let’s think about that whenever we’re on the water. Go pick up trash even if it’s not yours. You’ll make a difference, and you’ll feel better about it.”