As the Florida Keys recover from the impacts of Hurricane Irma’s Sept. 10 passage through the island chain, professional dive operators are assessing post-Irma condition of coral reefs and shipwrecks, precious resources located in the protected waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Off Key Largo, divers report that some of the favorite iconic dive and snorkel sites located 3 to 4 miles offshore remain very much intact, despite some topographic changes and a displacement of sand from deeper waters onto shallow areas of the reefs, which tidal cycles and ocean currents are expected to correct soon.
Key Largo dive operators — many of them Blue Star operators who promote marine conservation on behalf of the sanctuary — excitedly noted that the experience on some wreck dives is like seeing them for the first time, with new features exposed. During the assessment divers also collected a variety of marine debris from the reefs and mangrove trees lining canals that lead to open-water access.
“Every day more fish return, sea turtles, gentle nurse sharks and stingrays, all cruising the spur-and-groove formations that make these coral structures so recognizable,” said Jack Fishman, a dive instructor at Key Largo’s Rainbow Reef Dive Center.
Additional assessments are still ongoing throughout the Keys coordinated by NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Here are some highlights.
Molasses Reef: Marked by over two dozen mooring buoys and home to schools of grunt and gray snapper, Molasses Reef is named for what is thought to be the cargo of the wrecked wooden-hulled Austrian ship Slobodna that ran aground in 1887.
Hurricane Irma damaged the main equipment that powers Monroe County’s Marathon Public Library Branch. Due to difficulty acquiring parts to repair the power equipment, the library has not been able to reopen.
The last necessary parts are expected to arrive this week, and electricians are standing by to fast-track the repairs.
The Marathon Library could reopen as early as the end of this week, but an exact date will not be known until the parts arrive.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not allow Monroe County or FDOT contractors to remove hurricane debris from private roads in the County. However, there are exceptions if a private community requests debris removal from its private roads and completes a right of entry, hold harmless and indemnification form.
Only one person with signing authority from each private community should make the request.
To receive the form – and for information about the process – contact Trish Eables at 305-292-3470 or email email@example.com. Signed forms are sent to FEMA, which funds the debris contractors and gives them approval to work on private roads.
Response crews from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency are managing vessel recovery operations in the Keys with a priority on vessels that are leaking fuel or hazardous materials.
As of Oct. 15, crews have recovered 589 vessels in Monroe County. The Coast Guard hotline to notify them about a vessel that needs to be recovered or to inquire whether they have recovered your vessel is 305-985-3744.
The program, which is overseen by the USCG is a part of the FEMA-funded effort to recover sunken and displaced vessels from the waters of Monroe County.
Monroe County’s Hurricane Irma debris removal contractor Ashbritt Environmental has completed the first pass on more than 90 percent of county roads in its service area and will begin a final sweep Oct. 29.
This service area includes all county roads from mile marker 91 in Tavernier to the county line in Key Largo, and from MM 5 on Stock Island to MM 15 on Baypoint.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s hurricane debris removal contractors will finish their passes in Layton, Conch Key and Duck Key by Oct. 20. A final sweep of those areas also will begin on Oct. 29.
Representatives from FEMA will be on hand Tuesday, Oct. 17, at City Hall, 1300 White Street, during the City Commission meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. The FEMA Disaster Assistance Team will provide registration and case status checks in the small conference room beside the commission chambers.
The conference room is small, so access during the commission meeting may be limited. The assistance augments the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center located at 616 Simonton Street at Fire Station #2.
Anyone impacted by Hurricane Irma is reminded that the 30-day registration timeframe is fast approaching for survivors to apply for disaster assistance from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Survivors of Hurricane Irma have 60 days from the Sept. 10 date of disaster declaration to apply for individual assistance.
Beginning today the City of Key West will begin the final pass of Key West streets to pick up storm-related debris.
Following this final pass throughout the island, the city will return to normal protocol of trash pickup, which means residents and business owners will need to arrange with Waste Management for pickup before setting out large items.
Removing the vast quantities of storm-related debris has proven challenging in Key West and throughout Monroe County, but support from numerous contractors has made the program a success. Key West’s streets are in very good shape.
The community, too, is to be commended for making storm debris removal a priority so that the streets could be cleared and made safe.
Hurricane debris removal has been underway for nearly a month. Progress continues at a steady pace with the collection of approximately 570,000 cubic yards of vegetative, construction and other debris from unincorporated Monroe County and in the municipalities of Layton and Key Colony Beach, which contracted with the County to provide hurricane debris removal.
The debris has been collected in neighborhoods and along U.S. Highway 1 by Monroe County’s contracted hauler Ashbritt Environmental and Florida Department of Transportation contractors. Ashbritt Environmental has collected 250,590 cubic yards and estimates it is about halfway done in its territory. FDOT contractors have collected 319,329 cubic yards, which includes 170,702 cubic yards along County roads and 149,625 cubic yards along U.S. 1.
“The County is fortunate FDOT has been able to provide contractors to help with the unprecedented amount of hurricane debris we had throughout the Keys following Hurricane Irma,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. “We are very appreciative of this much-needed assistance to complete the debris removal. which is an important part of the Keys’ recovery.”
AshBritt Environmental is handling Key Largo to Tavernier, Conch Key and Mile Marker 15 to Stock Island and now has 64 trucks operating in unincorporated Monroe County. AshBritt-contracted crews have removed more than 250,000 cubic yards of debris and taken it to four temporary debris management sites in the Keys. They also have removed more than 3,000 white goods (appliances), which will have any Freon removed and then be recycled.
Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park in Fort Lauderdale has created a new brew, Florida Rebuilds, and will donate all proceeds — not just profits — to Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE) to help food and beverage workers in the Florida Keys. The beer — a blonde ale made with Key limes — went on sale Friday at the brewery and will soon be distributed throughout the state this week.
CORE is a 13-year-old charity that aids the children and families of food and beverage employees facing a “life-altering circumstance.”
Brown Distributing of West Palm Beach — Funky Buddha’s distributor — has pledged to donate all proceeds from its sales to CORE. Constellation Brands, which purchased Funky Buddha in August, has pledged to match up to $50,000 in sales of Florida Rebuilds ale.
“We want these folks to be able to pay their bills and feed their families, ” said John Linn, Funky Buddha’s brand manager. “Our goal is to hit that six-figure mark.”