In 2022, Monroe County Marine Resources saw a significant increase in migrant and derelict vessel removals in addition to its routine tasks. In 2022, Marine Resources replaced 115 navigational aids, removed 93 derelict vessels, and cleaned up 32,420 pounds of Irma-related shoreline debris from the 2017 storm.
Senior Administrator of Marine Resources Brittany Burtner said removing migrant vessels has become a significant environmental and financial burden.
“The migrant vessels have pollutants on board in the form of gasoline, diesel, and oil in unapproved containers,” said Burtner. “Since there is a strain on resources, these pollutants can leak into our nearshore waters. I am concerned this can become an environmental emergency.”
In 2022, the County received 49 removal authorizations for migrant vessels and spent $62,000 in County funds on these removals, in addition to $22,500 in FWC Derelict Vessel Grant Program funds. For perspective, Marine Resources received in total 150 removal authorizations, of which migrant vessels counted for one-third. In total, the County spent a little over $93,000 on vessel removals for both migrant and derelict vessels, and migrant vessels accounted for more than 67 percent of that total.
In 2023, Marine Resources has a task order with FWC grant funding to remove the two large Haitian migrant vessels and two other migrant vessels in John Pennekamp State Park and continues with the already-in-place removal authorizations.
“We routinely have to use County funds to remove the small homemade migrant vessels,” said Burtner. “They can break apart and become scattered marine debris that is virtually impossible to collect well before we can obtain grant funds to remove them.”
Currently, there are an unknown number of migrant and derelict vessels in the Florida Keys. This week, the Florida Division of Emergency Management sent a Derelict Vessel Task Force to the Florida Keys to collect Hurricane Ian-related vessels signed over to the state and migrant vessels that are untitled and unregistered.
“We will continue to work with our partners to remove migrant and derelict vessels to protect our sensitive environment and our boaters on the waterways,” said Burtner.