~Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves led restoration effort in South Florida~

Contractors removing debris from North Biscayne Bay.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is celebrating the removal of 56 tons of marine debris deposited by Hurricane Irma on 13 spoil islands in Biscayne Bay.

DEP Biscayne Bay Aquatic Reserves spearheaded the project after receiving a $100,000 grant from the Marine Debris Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This grant, provided through the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act, supported coastal recovery efforts involving the assessment, removal, and disposal of marine debris associated with Hurricane Irma. The Category 5 storm made landfall in Florida on September 10, 2017 and caused over $50 billion in damage in the United States.

The DEP, with partners from NOAA, Miami-Dade County, the Cities of Miami and North Miami, and AshBritt Environmental, focused on marine debris, starting at the shoreline and extending up to 100 feet inland. At the end of the 46-day effort, a total of 45 island acres had been restored and 111,944 pounds – just under 56 tons – of marine debris had been removed. The debris included dock and decking wood, tires, fishing gear, plastics and aluminum cans. Such debris can affect water quality, thwart vegetative growth and harm wildlife.

“It was a great example of what can happen when federal, state, local and private partners work together toward a common goal,” said Alex Reed, director of DEP Coastal Resilience and Protection Office. “Using collaborative local planning processes like the Biscayne Bay Commission, the state continues to advance restoration projects in the bay.”

The spoil islands of Biscayne Bay were last restored and improved in the 1990s and early 2000s in a project led by the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management, with financial support from the State of Florida. Since 2015, the Adopt an Island program has built on these restoration efforts by removing marine debris.

Future restoration projects include the removal of submerged debris and derelict vessels to further restore these important islands and surrounding marine ecosystems.

The Biscayne Bay Commission identified marine debris and the removal of exotic vegetation as a priority for response agencies to protect the bay and wildlife and provide recreational opportunities for the public. The commission called on federal, state and regional stakeholders, such as the DEP, to play an active role in prevention and cleanup measures.