KEY WEST | Marine salvors have been racing to get 32 abandoned boats off the bottom in Marquesas Keys waters before birds arrive.
A crew removed seven deteriorating vessels, many holding hazardous materials, oily residue, fuels and other pollutants.
The Keynoter reports (http://bit.ly/2mV9fTq) the $61,200 project is aimed at helping protected species like green and hawksbill sea turtles, the Miami blue butterfly and the piping plover
The Marquesas, six islands about 17 miles west of Key West, lie within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex.
Most of the derelict boats ended in waters and shores of the Marquesas as Cuban migrants fled north.
The removal project aims to conclude before bird-nesting season on the remote islands begins April 1. However, strong winds and high seas slowed efforts after Monday, with work continuing through this weekend to remove the derelict “chugs,” boats rigged with old engines. Most are between 18 and 25 feet long.
“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,” said Daniel Clark, manager of the Keys wildlife refuge system. “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.”
Several are completely submerged. “Others are strewn along sandy beaches and mangroves” considered essential nesting areas for sea turtles and birds, county information officer Cammy Clark said. “Coffin Marine Services will use a 60-foot barge with a boom crane and other resources to remove the boats.”
The project is logistically complicated due to the remote location and specialized boats and equipment necessary to perform the job, said Marine Resources senior administrator Rich Jones.
Jones said the county uses some of the local share of state Boating Improvement Funds to remove derelict boats throughout the Keys, usually about 80 a year. This is the first project of its type in the Marquesas. Some of the funding will come from federal fines levied on boaters that damaged resources in the Keys national marine sanctuary.