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Coastwide Abandoned Vessel Removal Ahead

One of many derelict vessels from Hurricane Florence that will soon be removed from the environment. Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation

Starting this month, dozens of storm-related abandoned and derelict vessels that are possible environmental and navigational hazards will be removed from coastal waters.

The nonprofit North Carolina Coastal Federation is working with state and local partners to remove more than 80 abandoned and derelict recreational and commercial boats between Manteo and Sunset Beach.

The Coast Guard and its contractors mitigated the pollution from most vessels soon after displacement but residual polluting and hazardous materials could still be onboard. Removing the vessels from the environment will both reduce marine debris and any remaining pollution impacts on coastal habitats such as oyster reef, submerged aquatic vegetation and marshes. Some of the vessels also pose a threat to navigation safety and public health, as well, according to the federation.

The state Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and the federation assessed, documented and prioritized the abandoned vessels for removal. The commission tagged the vessels, the last step before removal can begin once contractors are secured.

The Wildlife Commission, Department of Environmental Quality agencies, Coast Guard and others will to continue to strengthen pre-storm planning and post-storm response to displaced vessels after these round of removals is complete, according to the federation.

“For the first time ever, North Carolina is mounting a comprehensive effort to rid our coast of these broken down boats that blight our coast. The federal, state and local partners and multiple funders, along with support from the General Assembly, have come together to make this happen. We are enthusiastic about the removal of so many vessels posing environmental, health and economic risks to our coast,” said Todd Miller, federation executive director, in a statement.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program is funding the removal of 25 vessels in Pamlico, Carteret, Craven, Onslow, Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick counties. The state Division of Coastal Management, in partnership with the federation and North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, received the award.

In Currituck and Dare counties, 20 vessels will be removed with funds from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program grant, in partnership with Dare County, the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management and the Wildlife Commission.

“We are a proud participant in this removal effort,” said Ben Solomon, environmental specialist of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, in a statement. “It speaks directly to our agency’s mission to conserve North Carolina’s wildlife resources and their habitats, and to provide opportunities for wildlife-associated recreation. Clearing the boat debris is imperative to protecting North Carolina’s diverse aquatic and coastal species and maintaining a clean environment for outdoor enthusiasts who recreate along our state’s coastline.”

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program also awarded the federation funding to remove 35 vessels in Pamlico, Carteret, Craven, Onslow, Brunswick and New Hanover counties.

“The complexity of planning this large-scale effort required close coordination over a long period of time. And the result will quickly benefit our coastal resources and those who live, work and play among them,” said Paula Gillikin, central sites manager for the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve System, under the Division of Coastal Management.

The effort to remove these vessels was given a boost in 2019 when the General Assembly appropriated $1 million to the Wildlife Commission for vessel removal. Gov. Roy Cooper approved final legislation in July 2020 updating language to authorize the commission to remove these storm-related vessels. The legislation helped expedite abandoned boat removal while also protecting boat owners’ private property rights.

The federation-led efforts to build on large-scale marine debris removal have resulted in more than 910 tons of pressure treated wood, floats and other trash and debris being removed from coastal waters since Hurricane Florence in September 2018.

To learn about the progress of this work and the federation’s efforts to create a coast that is free of marine debris, visit the organization’s webpage on marine debris. 

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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.