NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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ADVs and the Gulf of Mexico

Abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) are a type of large marine debris that is a problem throughout the country. ADVs can be aesthetically unappealing, but can also create real problems by damaging important habitat, creating hazards to navigation and recreation, leaking pollutants into the environment, and impacting fisheries resources. Vessels can become derelict in a variety of ways, such as being abandoned by their owner after acquiring damage or sunk during a severe storm. Unfortunately, this type of debris can be extremely difficult and costly to remove, often making it difficult to address.

Derelict vessels in Galveston Bay, Texas.

Derelict vessels in Galveston Bay, Texas. (Photo Credit: Galveston Bay Foundation)

ADVs are particularly a problem in the Gulf of Mexico, especially due to the many severe storms in this region. ADVs and dilapidated docks remain along numerous rivers and tributaries that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these debris items are a direct result of storms including Hurricanes Ivan in 2004, Katrina and Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008, and Isaac in 2012. Unfortunately, this effect of these storms is not fully understood by many and it is an all too common practice in this region for boat owners to anchor their vessels in river systems prior to hurricane landfalls. Those boats can then lose their moorings and drift into marshes and stream banks from the strong winds, currents, and flooding that accompany these storms.

To address this problem in the Gulf region, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) has funded projects specifically to remove ADVs, including efforts in Dog River and Bayou la Batre, Alabama. Currently, the MDP is funding a project in Galveston Bay, Texas to remove large debris items such as ADVs. Unfortunately, there are still many ADVs that the MDP is not able to address due to costs and removal difficulties. For this reason, the MDP created the ADV InfoHub, which details how to address ADVs and provides avenues for removal in each coastal state. The ADV InfoHub also contains case studies and law reviews available for all Gulf States. In addition, the MDP has been involved in the creation of incident waterway response guides in both Florida and Alabama. These guides are meant to improve preparedness for response to and recovery from severe marine debris events by outlining existing responsibilities and procedures in one document for easy reference.

For more on ADVs, check out the ADV InfoHub on the NOAA Marine Debris Program website and keep your eye on our Gulf of Mexico regional page for more on marine debris efforts in the Gulf region.


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Cooperative Efforts Result in the Removal of Abandoned Vessels and Other Debris from the Historic Charleston Harbor

By: Sarah Latshaw, Southeast Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Charleston Harbor just got a facelift, with 10 abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) removed from its waterways and shoreline earlier this month. After being abandoned by their owners, many of these boats had been stuck for years, slowly deteriorating in the marsh, because of a lack of funding for removal and salvage efforts. Some of these ADVs were environmental concerns, causing damage to the shoreline and grasses or becoming dumping sites for other boaters’ trash; others posed a threat to navigation, and most were eyesores for this charming, historic city.

This removal effort was led by the SC Sea Grant Consortium, through support from a NOAA Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant. Through a collaborative effort, the SC Sea Grant Consortium partnered with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control – Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (SCDHEC-OCRM), the City of Charleston, and Charleston City Marina to haul off 68 tons of sailboats, motorboats, and an old houseboat. In addition, approximately 10 tons of marine debris (primarily unwanted fishing and boating gear) was collected and disposed of during a county-wide Clean Marine event this past April.

In the coming months, several more vessels will be removed and another Clean Marine event will be held. By the end of the project, approximately 100 tons of debris will be taken out of the Charleston Harbor watershed, giving it a healthy and fresh new look. For more on the project, check out the project webpage.


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The NOAA Marine Debris Program Launches the New ADV InfoHub!

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to announce the launch of our new ADV InfoHub, to serve as a center for information on abandoned and derelict vessels, or “ADVs.”

ADVs are a type of marine debris that threatens the environment, navigation, and economies. They can be found in ports and waterways all over the country and come from a variety of sources including storms and owner neglect. Unfortunately, they are also a type of marine debris that can be very difficult and expensive to remove. The removal of an ADV often requires extensive financial and technical resources. Additionally, the legislation surrounding the removal of ADVs can be a tricky topic to navigate because it is different for every state.

That’s where the new ADV InfoHub comes in. This new resource provides a central source of information regarding ADVs and the policies surrounding them. Users can access information on each coastal state, including details on legislation, funding, and information about available ADV Programs, as well as links to relevant publications, case studies, and legal reviews. Information is also provided on which agency to contact for more information on abandoned vessels in each state. The ADV InfoHub was developed with input from our state partners and as a dynamic resource, it will continue to be updated as new information and materials are received. Our aim is that it proves to be a useful resource for the coastal communities impacted by this problem.

Check out the new ADV InfoHub to learn more about abandoned and derelict vessels!

(Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board)

Learn all about ADVs by visiting the new ADV InfoHub on the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s website. (Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board)


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Cleaning Up the Marine Mess After Owners Abandon Ship

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.

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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.


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Abandoned and Derelict Vessels Challenge States

By: Dianna Parker

Abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) are a major problem for states where boating is a part of life. With increasing frequency, boats of all sizes are becoming abandoned and derelict, and they have a negative impact on recreational boating and fishing, leisure activities, and the environment.

Removing an ADV from the water isn’t as simple as, say, towing a broken-down car. The vessel can contain hazardous materials that must be taken out first by trained personnel and are often found either in shallow, difficult to reach areas, or in deep waters in a decrepit state. This requires large specialized equipment (i.e. barges and cranes) to lift, transport, and remove the ADV. Vessel registration laws vary state-to-state, and in some cases, agencies may not even know the ADV’s owner. Removal is an expensive and complicated process, and often no one entity has the ability to do it alone.

That’s why last week, 52 representatives from 15 states, four federal agencies, and Canada gathered at NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center for a workshop on ADVs. The goal was to share information on the best ways to deal with ADVs so that stakeholders could implement ideas back home. The workshop participants brought a wealth of experience, traded success stories and challenges, and made valuable connections.

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Despite the challenges, there’s a lot of work going on across the regions to address this problem. The NOAA Marine Debris Program supports a number of ADV removal projects in U.S. states and territories, including Coral Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, and Palm Beach County shorelines in Florida. Some groups are just getting started, but others have claimed victory with removals in Dog River in Alabama, Fordson Island in Michigan, and San Diego Bay in California. And of course, there’s significant work going on in Northeastern states to remove ADVs that were lost as a result of Sandy.

Those are just a few of the many, many projects and ADV programs across the country. This week, we’ll share a few more highlights – including an incredible story out of the Dog River project, where the project leads blew all expectations away. Stay tuned.

Horn Island barge removal, Regional Coordinator Kim Albins on the scene

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By: Kim Albins

Gulf of Mexico Regional Coordinator Kim Albins visits the barge removal at Horn Island on August 21, 2013.

The barge located off Horn Island is just one of hundreds of abandoned derelict vessels in the Gulf of Mexico region. It is a mystery how this particular barge became abandoned some 40 years ago; however, many vessels are ripped from their moorings and grounded in the shallow waters during severe hurricanes, while others are simply abandoned by negligent owners.

Horn Island is a peaceful isle with sugar-white sands and captivating lagoons, located to the south of Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the National Park Service’s Gulf Islands National Seashore.  The island is home to diverse wildlife, including alligators, herons, pelicans, ospreys, and other migratory birds. In stark contrast, the rusting metallic barge, which was over half the length of a football field, jutting out from the water, was a safety hazard and adversely altered seagrass habitat. Seagrass beds are essential habitat for species of conservation concern (e.g. sea turtles) including fishes, shrimp, and crabs. Seagrass beds also improve water quality, dampen waves, and stabilize sediment. The wrecked barge replaced seagrass beds with bare sand substrate and prevented re-colonization of seagrass from nearby patches.

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To promote ecological restoration of Horn Island, the National Park Service’s Matthew Johnson, with support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP), spearheaded a large collaborative effort to assess and remove the sunken barge.

On August 21, Gulf Stream Marine Enterprises, Inc. (contracted by the NPS) team, led by the Ladnier brothers, Will and Greg, began extracting large portions of  the barge, successfully removing the majority of the remains within the first few days. Further operations to assess the underwater portions of the site are underway. With the barge removed, we hope that seagrass will grow once again in this area.

MDP is working with state and federal partners to better understand and address the issues of abandoned derelict vessels nationally and in the Gulf of Mexico.  Piece by piece we hope to see derelict vessels removed and natural habitats restored.


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Abandon Ship!

The HMS Bounty featured in Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest as the Edinburgh Trader at the Tall Ships Challenge in Savannah, GA.

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.

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Abandoned ship on the coast of American Samoa.

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!