Hurricane Marine Debris Cleanup

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. 

There are 513 canals throughout the Keys. It is estimated that they all were impacted to some degree: 97 high impact, 150 medium impact, 139 lower impact and 127 low impact. Of those 513 canals, 333 are in unincorporated Monroe County.

Based on aerial photos, there is an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of marine hurricane debris that needs to be removed from Keys’ waters at a total removal cost of $52.6 million. The numbers could change once actual debris amounts are known.

The removal of marine debris, which is a much slower process than removing land debris, will take more than a year to complete.

In mid-February, the first phase of marine debris cleanup began in the County through a $6-million agreement with the state Department of Environmental Projection. DEP hired the contractor and led the operations, with coordinating support from the County. The work was prioritized by level of impact and economic impact to the residents. The hardest hit areas will be cleaned first.

Progress to Date: 

Crews have 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. DEP now is evaluating how it will move forward on the project.


Monroe County is anticipating receiving an agreement soon from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Resources Conservation Services. The NRCS is expected to provide $34 million in funding for 103 of the remaining most impacted canals, which are 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. 

All potential funds would go through the County. There is a local match of 25 percent, which would bring the entire project to about $45 million.

Until that agreement is in place, no work can be performed. However, the County is currently soliciting vendors to perform the work so when the agreement is received and executed the County will be able to quickly move forward on the cleanup.

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.

The Damage Survey Reports Included $45 million in eligible funding requests for unincorporated Monroe County and the municipalities of Islamorada and Marathon. 

Using the program guidelines for funding eligibility in their initial review of the applications, USDA-NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Program staff deemed 103 of the most heavily impacted canals eligible for funding to date.

Cleanup Project with DEP

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 is overseeing the $6 million operation with Monroe County, and Monroe County staff will provide local coordination.

DEP anticipates additional funding commitments of $2 million each with the City of Marathon and the Village of Islamorada.

Monroe County and the municipalities will reimburse DEP within the next 24 months for the work performed. The County then will seek reimbursement from FEMA for the allowable 75 percent of the cost.

FEMA, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Monroe County’s consultant AMEC Foster Wheeler also helped with the planning efforts.

The first canal that has been cleaned is Canal #290 on Big Pine Key. It was one of the six canals that had been restored as part of the County’s canal restoration demonstration projects, using muck removal and the installation of an air curtain to keep out floating vegetation.

The debris that is collected will be taken by barge to a temporary off-loading site. It won’t stay at this location long before being hauled by trucks to the Debris Management Site at the former Big Pine Key Prison site. From there, it will be sorted and prepared for hauling to a permitted solid waste disposal facility approved by DEP on the mainland.

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.