The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most active and impactful on record. Hurricane Irma was the strongest hurricane ever observed in the open Atlantic Ocean and caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean, Florida, and the Southeastern U.S., including Georgia. As a result, Hurricane Irma ranked in the top five costliest hurricanes in the U.S. at $50 billion.
Hurricane Irma impacted more than 70% of Georgia’s coast, leaving large amounts of marine debris in its wake. With financial support through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR) was awarded $600,000 through a NOAA Marine Debris Program grant.
Since the hurricane, GA DNR worked with local municipalities on cleanup efforts and staff conducted assessments, using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and helicopters to document numerous concentrations of marine debris in five of the state’s six coastal counties. Removal efforts are targeting debris like vessels, construction materials, and floating docks made of concrete, foam, and PVC, that remain submerged or lodged in coastal marshlands. This debris in the coastal zone poses hazards to navigation, commercial fishing grounds, and sensitive ecosystems.
As of October 2018, GA DNR, working with a contractor, has removed more than eight million pounds of debris. When the project ends in 2022, they estimate over 12 million pounds will be removed in total! This important work will allow the marshlands to regenerate vegetation critical for habitat and coastal protection.
If you’ve ever been to Georgia you know the coast and its barrier islands provide sanctuary for migrating birds, a home to a number of endangered or threatened species, a living for commercial fishers, and numerous recreation and tourism opportunities. Although marine debris is an every day threat, we are thankful the coast will be a bit cleaner as a result of this collaborative effort.