A group of volunteers celebrates on June 11 after the successful completion of the first day of cleanup in Boot Key Harbor. ASHLEY LOPEZ/Contributed

It all started when a previously sunken boat bobbed to the surface after the Keys’ recent brush with a tropical storm.  

“The ocean was really churned up and I saw this dinghy come to the surface on a nearby grass flat, partially inflated,” said Ryan Newkirk of the vessel “Intrepid.” The liveaboard dragged it to shore and started cutting it up. It wasn’t long before he resolved to enlist a few buddies for a more extensive Boot Key Harbor cleanup. The city of Marathon manages the 226-ball mooring field and the city marina in the harbor, as well as offering services to others at anchor nearby.  

Newkirk divided the harbor and nearby canals into zones and assigned groups to each – shallow vessels to the mangrove shorelines and bigger boats to assist in canal cleanup. In all, about 80 volunteers showed up on June 11 and 12 and collected more than a ton of debris. The City of Marathon Public Works Department provided trash bags, a dump truck, skid steer and employees to truck away the debris. 

Eric Ramsey, a liveaboard in the harbor, used his paddleboard to scour the mangroves.  

“I found a really long wooden paddle, the kind people would use for décor now,” he said. “But my favorite part of the cleanup was getting the lobster trap off the middle of a grass flat just east of the Boot Key Harbor Bridge. I’ve been staring at it, and it has been bugging me for more than a year.” 

Ramsey said a Burdine’s Waterfront Bar and Grill employee called across the channel as he was pulling plastic garbage out of the mangroves. 

“He shouted, ‘Thank you, thank you,’” Ramsey remembered. “It just looked bad. And now it looks better.” 

Newkirk is a serial cruiser, retired now eight years after a career in the automotive industry. He said he was amazed by the outpouring of support from the volunteers, the City of Marathon’s Marina and Public Works departments and the community at large. He collected about $1,200 in giveaway prizes for volunteers from local businesses such as the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, Burdine’s Waterfront Bar and Grill, the Stuffed Pig, the Turtle Hospital, Marathon Pontoon Rentals, Florida Keys Steak & Lobster, Porky’s Bayside Restaurant, Dockside and Overseas Pub and Grill.  

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