Abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) are a form of marine debris that has been occurring with increasing frequency. ADVs can be a major environmental, navigational, and economic problem, not to mention an eye sore. For these reasons, it is often desirable to remove them as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, removing these neglected vessels—often underwater or barely afloat—is not straight-forward. Abandoned vessels can contain hazardous materials, such as oil, paints, and lubricants, which can leak into the surrounding environment. They may be located in difficult to reach areas or in deep waters, requiring large, specialized equipment to lift and transport the vessels and, with or without these complications, removal costs can be high. While some long-lost vessels have special historic value or are even part of a marine sanctuary, most of the vessels we’re talking about today are much less glamorous and much more problematic—cast off by their owners or victims of past natural disasters, plaguing shallow coastal waters and decaying from years of neglect.
The laws and regulations dealing with ADVs can also be complicated, as they differ from state to state, delineating matters from what vessels can be removed to what happens when an individual wants to claim one. Gaining proper authority to remove abandoned vessels can thus be tricky. Even though several states (California, Florida, Maryland and Washington) have dedicated funding and established programs to address abandoned and derelict vessels, removing ADVs continues to be an expensive and complicated process and can require a good deal of collaboration among government agencies at various levels. The NOAA Marine Debris Program will be launching an ADV InfoHub later this week that will provide a central location to help navigate this complicated issue.
Despite the challenges, there’s a lot of work going on across the country to address the issue of ADVs. The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) supports a number of ADV removal projects through our removal grants, such as efforts by the Coral Bay Community Council in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where nine vessels are being removed from the shallow waters of Coral Bay, prioritized by their potential to cause future environmental damage. Also supported by the NOAA MDP, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium is removing approximately 22-26 tons of ADVs (13 total) from the Charleston Harbor watershed and LagoonKeepers.org plans to remove 31 ADVs by June 2016 in Palm Beach County, Florida. In Dog River, Alabama, a project supported by the MDP and led by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab wrapped up late last year and removed 90 vessels! Additionally, there has been substantial work done in Northeastern states to remove ADVs lost as a result of the massive 2012 storm known as Sandy.
These are just some of the many ADV efforts aimed at reducing the negative impacts of ADVs on our coasts. For more on ADVs, check out NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration’s (OR&R) recent blog post. For more information on what’s being done by the MDP, check out our website. You can also learn about other ways NOAA’s OR&R is involved here.