Hurricane Marine Debris Cleanup


On Aug. 17, 2018, crew members used a long-reach excavator anchored atop a barge on Friday to remove Hurricane Irma debris – including a sunken motorhome – from Canal #242 at 6099 Overseas Highway in Marathon.

It was the start of a $49.2 million project to remove hurricane debris from 103 of the remaining most impacted canals in the Keys. A workforce of about 60 people – using 15 barges, 5 sonar boats, 4 grapple trucks and other equipment – will work at several sites simultaneously throughout the Keys to complete the project within the grant-mandated time frame of 220 days.

The canals to be cleaned up under this grant were chosen by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

In September, NRCS approved 41 more canals for cleanup using the grant funding. 

In October, NRCS approved 28 more canals for cleanup using the grant funding to bring the total to 172 canals.

Photo of minivan being removed from canal 277 on BIg Pine Key during Monroe County hurricane marine

How is the Project Going?

During the first 16 weeks of the 220-day project, the removal work status is as follows: 

  • 49% of canals have been completed (84 of 172 canals complete)
  • 23% of the grant funding for cleanup has been used ($10.5 million out of $45.8 million)
  • Project is on schedule (52% completed) in the 220-day time period mandated by the grant details.

Nine crews have been working in six geographical parts of the Keys called Damage Survey Report (DSR) areas. This includes a car and a minivan that were removed from canal 277 on Big Pine Key and a 37-foot boat that was lifted off the bottom of canal 239 in Marathon using air bags. 

The hurricane marine debris is being taken to nearby debris management sites before being hauled to the mainland for proper disposal.

Where are Crews Working?

A tentative master schedule is available for the project. Please note that the schedule may change due to debris encountered during the project. Click on the link below to view the schedule.

Schedule of Canals to be Cleared Dec. 10 - 16

DSR #1 - Big Coppitt, Geiger, Saddlebunch, Sugarloaf

  • Canal #422– Sugarloaf Key between Keystone Rd, La Brisa Ct, La Brisa Ln, La Brisca Ct, Sugarloaf Blvd
  • Canal #424– Sugarloaf Key between Allamanda Dr, Coral Ct

DSR #2 - Cudjoe, Summerland, Ramrod, Little Torch

  • Canal #351 – Summerland Key between 41st St, 44th St, 45th St, Airport Dr, N Airport Dr, S Bay Dr, Caribbean Dr, Caribbean Dr, E Caribbean Dr, S Caribbean Dr, W Cruikshank Isle , Flagship Dr, Gulf Dr, Horace St, Hunt Ln, Isles Blvd, Katherine St, Lagoon Dr, Overseas Hwy, Palm Ln, Park Dr, N Lake Dr, S Lake Dr, W Shore Dr

 DSR #3 – Big Pine Key

  • Canal #266 – Big Pine Key between Matthews Rd, Witters Ln, Baileys Ln
  • Canal #265 – No Name Key between Bimini Ln, Tortuga Ln

DSR #4 - Conch, Tavernier, Key Largo

  • Canal #102– Tavernier between Blue Harbor Dr, Normandy Dr.
  • Canal #21– Key Largo between Plantation Rd, Vaca Rd, Bahia Honda Rd, Largo Rd, Big Pine Rd, Mangrove Ln

DSR #5A - Islamorada

  • Canal #154– Lower Matecumbe Key between Palm Dr, Buttonwood Ln, Bayview Dr

DSR #5B - Marathon

  • Canal #175– Marathon between Coco Plum Dr
  • Canal #206- Marathon between Aviation Blvd, Harbor Dr

What if my canal is not among the 172 approved canals?

For those who live on a canal that is not on that list of 172, but have hurricane marine debris in their canal, this is what you can do:

Provide photos of the debris on the canal banks right after Irma hit, photos of debris that is now visible under the water or underwater photos of the debris -- and send them to our Sustainability Director Rhonda Haag at

Note: All canals were sonared by the County’s marine debris vendor to locate and measure the amount of debris in the canals. This information was provided to the federal granting agency NRCS.  

This data was used in the determination by NRCS of which canals were approved for clearing. Not every canal with debris in it was or will be approved for clearing. It had to be enough debris to potentially affect the hydraulic flow capacity of that canal.  NRCS makes that determination, not the County.

Any additional documentation provided by residents will be reviewed by the County and forwarded to NRCS for reconsideration.

How did Monroe County Obtain the Funding?

After exhausting avenues for FEMA funding to clean up Hurricane Irma marine debris in Keys canals, Monroe County led a months-long effort to obtain alternate funding from the Emergency Watershed Protection Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

This type of funding was used following Hurricane Georges in 1998 to help the marine cleanup, but it is not commonly used for this purpose in the Keys. This time, it took a lot of advocating and work by County staff, help from leaders and staff of Marathon and Islamorada, and major advocating by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbello and State Rep. Holly Raschein, to be awarded this large grant.

“A miracle happened,” Monroe County Mayor David Rice told the crowd assembled at Canal #242 to watch the debris being removed to the happiness of nearby residents. “We are thankful to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for their assistance, cooperation and funding.”

A total of $49.2 million is available under the grant ($45.9 million for marine clearing activities and $3.3 million for monitoring). It is divided as follows: $35.2 million for unincorporated Monroe County, $7.5 million for Marathon and $6.5 million for Islamorada.

The federal grant has a local match (non-federal funds) of 25 percent. Monroe County will use $5.5 million of its Florida Keys Stewardship Act funds toward its portion of the local match. Monroe County is thankful to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for providing much of the local match for the County, Marathon and Islamorada.

FEMA has a comprehensive reimbursement policy in place for local governments to remove hurricane land debris, but FEMA does not have such a reimbursement policy for removing hurricane debris from canals.

“We did not want the expensive price tag for cleaning up the hurricane marine debris to be shouldered solely by our local residents who already have been through so much,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. “That is why we worked so hard and persevered, with help from our municipal partners and our federal and state legislators, to get this alternative funding source. And once we were awarded the grant, County staff, led by Sustainability Director Rhonda Haag, worked hard to expedite its implementation so we can get these canals cleaned up as quickly as possible.”

To obtain this funding, on Feb. 15, 2018, Monroe County submitted five Damage Survey Report application packages for Irma marine debris removal to the regional office of the National Resources Conservation Services. NRCS chose the canals that would be eligible for the grant.

The 103 canals that will be cleaned of hurricane debris under this grant are located in unincorporated Monroe County, Marathon and Islamorada. Eight of these canals are in the Upper Keys, 23 in the Middle Keys and 72 in the Lower Keys.

Status of Reimbursement

  • Monroe County submitted the first reimbursement request of $1,156,369.50 to NRCS and it was RECEIVED by the County on 10/22/18.
  • Monroe County submitted the second reimbursement request of $2,192,817.22 to NRCS and it was RECEIVED by the County on 12/6/18.
  • Monroe County is working on the third reimbursement request of $2,855,994.54 to submit to NRCS.

How were the canals chosen?

The original application packages from the County to NRCS were based on the limited information the County had at the time from the NOAA aerials taken immediately after the storm, and from a limited number of canals where Wood Environment & Infrastructure Services (which has worked with the County on canal restoration projects) visited and took underwater photos. These photos were taken in murky water after the storm. The County asked for all 500 canals to be cleared, but since the County could not provide detailed information on all 500, NRCS approved the 103 that had the more detailed information.

Since then, Adventure Environmental had sonar scans conducted on all 500 canals, thus providing a more accurate depiction of the underwater debris in the canals. The County provided that sonar information to Wood Environment, which has been preparing applications for cleanup of the additional canals showing debris in them (that weren’t part of the 103 originally approved). NRCS is reviewing that information, and so far has approved the 41 new canals. There are more they are reviewing in the remaining DSR’s.

Contractor: The County contracted with Tavernier-based Adventure Environmental to lead the cleanup. Adventure Environmental hired subcontractor Arnolds Towing of Stock Island to help meet the grant deadline. Both companies are using barges specifically built to perform in the Keys environment with minimal impact.  

Monitor: The work will be monitored by Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc.

Cleanup Project with DEP

Following the completion of 2.5 million cubic yards of Hurricane Irma land debris cleanup throughout the Keys, the cleanup of marine debris from the category 4 storm began in mid-February in unincorporated Monroe County. 

Monroe County signed an agreement with DEP in February to assist in the marine debris removal effort of the impacted canals and nearshore waters of Monroe County. DEP hired DRC Environmental Services to do the work. DEP oversaw the operation with Monroe County, and Monroe County staff provided local coordination.

The work under the $6 million agreement was prioritized by level of impact and economic impact to the residents. The hardest hit areas will be cleaned first.

Under this agreement, crews removed 3,233 cubic yards of marine debris from the canals along the following roads: Powell Avenue, Barry Avenue, Florida Avenue, Buccaneer Road, Anne Bonny Road, Blackbeard Road, Maracaibo Road, Bailey's Lane, Doubloon Road, Peg Leg Road, Coral Way, Le Grand Road, La Fitte Road, Matthew Road, Gordon Drive, Hollerich Drive, Hibiscus Drive, Atlantis Drive, Winifred Street, Sands Road, Saint Lucie Lane, Saint Martin Lane, Barbados Lane, Jamaica Lane, West Indies Drive, Croton Lane, Pine Lane, Tobago Land, Watson Boulevard, Anguila Lane, Ortega Lane and Sunrise Drive, and along the Avenues of D, E, F, G, H, I and J on Big Pine Key. The work being led by the state under the DEP contract has temporarily halted due to the original contractor hired to do the work leaving the Keys without completing the job.

For this project, the debris being removed includes vegetation, hazardous waste, construction and demolition debris, propane tanks, appliances, electronic waste, docks, vehicles, seawalls and houses or portions of houses that pose a direct threat to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the County and the State of Florida.

It does include motorhomes. It does not include boats, which are being addressed through the displaced vessel removal effort being overseen by the FWC. Also, no sediment or silt will be removed under this phase because it is not reimbursable by FEMA.

The work is being done with an operational plan approved and permitted by DEP and NOAA that ensures the protection of wildlife.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Program

Credit of photo from Jack FishmanPhoto credit: Jack Fishman

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is initiating a program to address the significant amount of marine debris left in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

For information, go to:

That page includes links to downloadable images, initiative information including protocols, and how to become a Blue Star operator and be eligible for funding.

Community Marine Cleanups

Monroe County also will continue to support groups that want to do community marine cleanups of areas that big equipment couldn’t reach following Hurricane Irma.

If you are planning a community marine cleanup in unincorporated Monroe County and need Monroe County public works’ support for pickup of the collected debris or disposal at a County transfer station, please contact Monroe County Solid Waste at least a week in advance of the cleanup at 305-292-4536 to schedule.

Monroe County is proud of the community’s willingness and self-help attitude to support the Keys’ recovery.