Hurricane Marine Debris Cleanup

Hurricane Irma Marine Debris Removal

Following the completion of 2.5 million cubic yards of Hurricane Irma land debris cleanup throughout the Keys, on Aug. 17, 2018, crew members of Tavernier-based Adventure Environmental, Inc. used a long-reach excavator anchored atop a barge to remove Hurricane Irma debris – including a sunken motorhome – from Canal #242 in Marathon. This was the start of a $49.2 million project to remove hurricane debris from 103 of the most impacted canals in the Keys. A workforce of about 60 people – using 15 barges, 5 sonar boats, 4 grapple trucks, and other equipment – worked at several sites simultaneously throughout the Keys to complete the project.

The canals were chosen by the USDA's National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). With the success of the first 103 approved canals, NRCS approved an additional 41 canals in September 2018, and then 28 more canals in October 2018. And, in July 2019, 76 additional canals were approved for marine debris removal for a total of 249 canals. The project remained on time and under budget throughout the process. 

In May 2019, NRCS also approved 10 canals for Hurricane Irma sediment removal.  The County submitted 34 canals to NRCS for funding for sediment removal eligibility determination. The approved canals were located on Lower Matecumbe Key, in Marathon, and on Big Pine Key.

The hurricane marine debris was taken to nearby debris management sites before being hauled to the mainland for proper disposal. The debris included vegetation, hazardous waste, construction and demolition debris, propane tanks, appliances, electronic waste, docks, vehicles, seawalls, and houses or portions of houses that pose a direct threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the County and the State of Florida. It did not include boats, which were addressed through the displaced vessel removal effort being overseen by the FWC.

The County submitted additional information to NRCS on April 19, 2019, which included a total of 224 additional marine debris removal canals.

  1. Rhonda Haag headshot

    Rhonda Haag

    Chief Resilience Officer

  2. Sustainability

    Physical Address
    102050 Overseas Highway
    Key Largo, FL 33037

A total of $49.2 million ($45.9 million for marine clearing activities and $3.3 million for monitoring) was divided as follows: $35.2 million for unincorporated Monroe County, $7.5 million for Marathon, and $6.5 million for Islamorada. The hardest-hit areas were cleaned first.

The federal grant had a local match (non-federal funds) of 25 percent. Monroe County used $5.5 million of its Florida Keys Stewardship Act funds toward its portion of the local match and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection provided much of the local match for the County, Marathon, and Islamorada.

What if my canal was not cleaned of Hurricane Irma marine debris?

Provide photos of the debris on the canal banks right after Irma hit, photos of debris that are now visible under the water, or underwater photos of the debris to haag-rhonda@monroecounty-fl.govAny additional documentation provided by residents will be reviewed by the County and forwarded to NRCS for reconsideration.

Not every canal with debris in it was or will be approved for clearing. It had to be enough debris to potentially affect the hydraulic flow capacity of that canal. NRCS makes that determination, not the County.


After exhausting avenues for FEMA funding to clean up Hurricane Irma marine debris in Keys canals, Monroe County led a months-long effort to obtain alternate funding from the Emergency Watershed Protection Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

This type of funding was used following Hurricane Georges in 1998 to help the marine cleanup, but it is not commonly used for this purpose in the Keys. 

FEMA has a comprehensive reimbursement policy in place for local governments to remove hurricane land debris, but FEMA does not have such a reimbursement policy for removing hurricane debris from canals.

“We did not want the expensive price tag for cleaning up the hurricane marine debris to be shouldered solely by our local residents who already have been through so much,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. “That is why we worked so hard and persevered, with help from our municipal partners and our federal and state legislators, to get this alternative funding source. And once we were awarded the grant, County staff, led by Sustainability Director Rhonda Haag, worked hard to expedite its implementation so we can get these canals cleaned up as quickly as possible.”

How were the canals chosen?

The original application packages from the County to NRCS were based on the limited information the County had at the time from the NOAA aerials taken immediately after the storm and from a limited number of canals where Wood Environment & Infrastructure Services (which has worked with the County on canal restoration projects) visited and took underwater photos. These photos were taken in murky water after the storm. The County asked for all 500 canals to be cleared, but since the County could not provide detailed information on all 500, NRCS approved the 103 that had more detailed information.

Adventure Environmental Inc. had sonar scans conducted on all 500 canals providing a more accurate depiction of the underwater debris in the canals.

Contractors & Monitoring

The County contracted with Tavernier-based Adventure Environmental Inc to lead the cleanup. Adventure Environmental hired subcontractor Arnold’s Towing of Stock Island to help meet the grant deadline. Both companies are using barges specifically built to perform in the Florida Keys environment with minimal impact. The work was monitored by Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc.