Abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) are a marine debris problem in many places around the United States, and pose a particular problem in Florida and the Caribbean. In this region, which boasts both beautiful weather and waters, a high number of recreational and commercial boaters unfortunately equals a high number of ADVs. These large marine debris items range in size from small recreational vessels to large steel-hulled commercial ships, but the majority of the ADVs in the region are from recreational use. These vessels may be abandoned or become derelict at the end of their useful life, after damage from storms, or when boat owners cannot keep up with their maintenance due to time and economic constraints. Unfortunately, the removal of debris items like ADVs is extremely costly and logistically difficult, so many ADVs remain where they are. These vessels can lead to all sorts of problems, including causing physical damage to sensitive habitats like reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves. As vessels deteriorate, they can impact water quality and pose potential risks to public health and safety. ADVs can also become navigational hazards, reduce the beauty of popular recreational spots, and have economic impacts from reduced tourism and costs associated with removal.
Unfortunately, this problem continues to grow in much of the U.S. Caribbean. With little funding available for removal and difficulties with policy enforcement, more and more vessels are being abandoned each year in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). This region also sees a large number of storms, which can result in increased ADVs. For those vessels that are removed, limited options for disposal can continue to create difficulties. Thankfully, the ADV problem is slowly improving in Florida. Although Florida has the highest number of registered vessels in the United States, and there are still large amounts of vessels that are abandoned or become derelict each year, there is an increase in efforts to prevent and reduce the number of ADVs in the state.
Statewide programs in Florida such as those that educate boaters and communicate with owners of vessels at risk of becoming derelict are working to address the ADV issue. A database of ADVs in Florida waters, grant funding for removal, the refusal to issue certificates of title for vessels deemed derelict by law enforcement officers, and plans such as the Florida Marine Debris Reduction Guide that include addressing ADVs, are all helping to improve the problem. Although ADVs in the U.S. Caribbean continue to pose a real threat, efforts such as those to improve disposal options in the USVI and Puerto Rico, develop a USVI ADV inventory and database, and remove vessels (such as this project in Puerto Rico) are working to address the issue. With more and more efforts underway, we can work together to reduce ADVs and their associated impacts in Florida and the Caribbean.
For more on ADVs and associated information in Florida & the Caribbean and around the United States, check out the ADV InfoHub.