‘Send the divers out’

FKNMS calling on dive shops to help remove debris

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Divers with found debris in the Florida Keys. Credit: Jack Fishman

Much progress has been made when it comes to Hurricane Irma debris removal on land in the Florida Keys, but there are swaths of debris elsewhere, invisible to those of us without a dive tank.

In the eight months since the hurricane, debris like broken glass, traps, nets and lines has started to settle after the rough-and-tumble wrath of the storm.

Think fishing line wrapped around coral and sponges, or the flippers of sea turtles and manatees.

“There’s quite a bit of trash everywhere,” said Elena Rodriguez.

She’s on the Marine Sanctuary’s Marine Debris Working Group, and presented to the Advisory Council at its meeting on April 17 at the Hyatt Place in Marathon. Lisa Mongelia, who is also in the working group, was also on hand. Shortly after Irma, the group created Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys.

“We’re going to have to send the divers out,” Rodriguez said.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is seeking applications from Blue Star certified dive operators to find and remove marine debris from target areas within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Approximately $80,000 total will be awarded for the removal efforts on a rolling basis; award amounts will range from $1,000 to $10,000.

All proposed projects are required to meet or exceed a 50 percent match. For example, if $4,000 is requested from the foundation, a $2,000 match is expected to be contributed to the project, like staff and volunteer time, work performed, materials and services donated or cash.

For more information, call Marlies Tumolo at 305-434-9385 or email her at [email protected].

In other news, Rhonda Haag, sustainability director for Monroe County, gave an update about canal cleanup post-Irma. About 100 canals throughout unincorporated Monroe were heavily affected by the storm, and 3,081 cubic yards of debris have been pulled out of Big Pine Key canals since the $6 million cleanup project started in February.

Total cost for canal cleanup will most likely be around $52 million, which is why the county is seeking funds from other sources.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to fund cleanup in unincorporated Monroe, Marathon and Islamorada at a total of $10 million, although cleanup has not started in the Middle and Upper Keys yet.

It’s on a reimbursement system, so Monroe County, Marathon and Islamorada will reimburse DEP, then seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Haag said.

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