MARQUESAS KEYS, FL – To restore shoreline and nearshore habitats in the once pristine and remote Marquesas Keys, the Monroe County Marine Resources Office is leading a $61,200 project to remove up to 32 abandoned and derelict vessels, and their associated debris and hazardous materials. This project will begin Sunday, March 12, weather permitting – and be completed by April 1, the start of bird nesting season.
The Marquesas Keys are a group of islands about 17 nautical miles west of Key West. They are located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. These islands have been a historic landing spot for Cuban migrant rafters, who leave behind their rustic vessels known as chugs that contain batteries, fuel, oil, polystyrene foam, plastic and other hazardous materials.
Monroe County removes about 80 derelict vessels each year from Sanctuary waters, but this is the County’s first removal project in the Marquesas Keys.
“Monroe County is pleased the removal work is about to start,” said Rich Jones, Senior Administrator of the Marine Resources Office. “This project has required extensive planning and coordination with multiple state and federal agencies, and is logistically complicated due to the remote location and specialized boats and equipment necessary to perform the job.”
Daniel Clark, Refuge Manager for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex, said the Marquesas Keys provide some of the last remaining habitat in the Lower Keys for several threatened and endangered species, including the piping plover, green and hawksbill sea turtles, and the Miami blue butterfly.
“Removal of these vessels and marine debris is critical for the continued conservation of these rare animals and their habitats because if left as is, they would likely continue to impact this important habitat,” Clark said. “Removal of these vessels is important to protect the special place that is the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. We are pleased to be a part of this multi-agency effort and thank the County, State and other Federal partners as we work together to ensure these precious ecosystems remain in good condition for future generations."
Vessel removal also will eliminate human health threats and safety hazards to people who try to climb on them or access them.
This project would not be possible without the commitment and coordination of Monroe County, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that oversees the Refuge, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I am exceptionally pleased to see the partnerships between Federal, State and County governments coming together to make this clean-up effort happen,” FWC Captain David Dipre said. “These are sensitive and important environmental areas where derelict vessels and pollution do not belong.”
Monroe County and the Sanctuary have hired local-based Coffin Marine Services to remove the 32 derelict vessels, which range in size from 18 to 25 feet, and are spread across six islands. Some of the chugs are submerged in the nearshore waters and others are strewn along sandy beaches and mangroves. Coffin Marine Services will use a 60-foot barge with a boom crane and other resources to remove the boats. To minimize environmental impacts from the project, the boats will be removed from sensitive habits before hazardous material is recovered.
The project is being paid for utilizing Monroe County Boating Improvement Funds, which are generated from recreational vessel registration fees, and Sanctuary Damage Assessment and Restoration Revolving Funds, which are recovered from incidents involving injuries to Sanctuary resources.