By: Asma Mahdi, Outreach and Communications Specialist, NOAA Marine Debris Program
Last weekend at the Tall Ships Challenge in Savannah, GA, I had the opportunity to climb aboard the HMS Bounty, also known as the Edinburgh Trader from Disney’s famed, action-packed blockbuster series Pirates of the Caribbean. You may better remember it as the first ship from Dead Man’s Chest where Captain Davey Jones summoned the Kraken, the legendary sea giant, to destroy and sink the Edinburgh Trader, a merchant vessel Captained by Bellamy. Okay, I’ll admit to having watched every Pirates of the Caribbean installment and even having shamelessly stood in line on opening nights. Summon the Kraken!
The Tall Ships Challenge took place over four days at the Savannah Riverfront. Thousands of people had a chance to board fourteen sailing vessels from around the world, interact with crew members and experience, for a moment, life aboard ship.
While touring some of the historical ships, I realized that sometimes we forget that abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) are marine debris. Coastal regions with active boating communities, like Florida, Washington and Georgia, are more likely to see this type of debris first hand. These vessels can threaten the marine environment by damaging sensitive marine habitats such as coral reefs and harming marine life. If they lie within a navigational path, abandoned vessels can also pose a threat to other ships.
Why are vessels abandoned in the first place? There are several reasons ranging from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, which often plague the southeast, to a lack of upkeep and maintenance. In 2009, New York Times columnist David Streitfeld explained how the economy has left some boat owners with no choice other than to “abandon ship”—turning ports and marinas into default “dumping grounds.”
With increasing public concern, the MDP coordinated the first state-level workshop on ADVs to discuss challenges and successes in addressing this issue. Federal agencies, states, and territories participated, including the host state of the Tall Ships Challenge, Georgia.
The MDP continues to partner with other stakeholders on the strategic outputs from the workshop, with a particular focus on ADV legislation and the development, population, and maintenance of an ADV database—Georgia is an important contributor to this specific discussion.
Being down in Savannah and seeing the tall ships reminded me that maritime culture is one to be celebrated, not one we should “abandon.” Today’s abandoned vessels are not the result of encounters with mythical sea beasts, as was the fate of the Edinburgh Trader. Abandoned vessels are a detrimental form of debris, and we must all work together to keep our seas free of all types of debris!