Largest effort yet to remove abandoned boats left behind after storms kick off on NC Coast

Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 7:34 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After years of searching for solutions to rid our coast of abandoned boats, crews are on the marsh working to fish them out of the Cape Fear’s waterways.

Last July, lawmakers passed legislation to allow the wildlife commission to remove the storm-related vessels and the first of the removals kicked off this month.

Leaders call it the most comprehensive plan to remove derelict and abandoned vessels. It aims to take out 80 abandoned boats between Manteo and Sunset Beach.

Joe Huie comes from a family of fisherman, but decided to pivot and clean up marine debris two years ago after Hurricane Florence rocked the region.

What Huie thought would be a 30-day job continues on still, two years later. He sees the problem of boats and debris in our waterways firsthand every day and hopes to inspire others.

“A little more awareness and a little more care with building these structures and a little bit more self awareness for us as citizens, enjoying this beautiful area that we have access to,” said Huie.

It’s the same philosophy that guides many other partners who, together, are cleaning up our waters.

The boat crews were removing Tuesday, near Masonboro Island, is called “Grace.” It’s been lodged in the marsh grass since Hurricane Florence, but Huie says he’s pulled debris out dating as far back as Hurricane Fran, 25 years ago.

“A lot of people are frustrated they think ‘can’t you just yank it out?’ But there’s been this void in the regulatory process about how we can actually take a vessel once it’s been abandoned. You can deem it abandoned, you have to track down the owner; there’s a whole series of steps that have to occur. It’s a very long process and there really wasn’t a good regulatory framework for it,” said Ted Wilgis of the NC Coastal Federation.

Things got a lot easier recently though. Lawmakers passed legislation last summer giving the state the authority to come in and declare boats abandoned, and remove them.

Local municipalities have helped the push to remove the derelict boats too.

So far there are 25 vessels just like “Grace” slated to be removed from Eastern North Carolina and they’re looking for contractors to remove dozens more.

Fishing them out of the waterways promises to prevent safety issues, help our environment and also our economy.

“Ninety percent of the commercial seafood that we eat are produced in these estuaries, so they’re very important to our economy and also to resilience to storms. These marshes are huge sponges that can absorb storm surge from the islands, and if they get too degraded through pollution and abandoned vessels or marine debris in the marshes, they die off, then you lose that resilience to storms,” said Wilgis.

It’s a lot of work getting these boats out of the water, but everyone agrees it’s well worth the time spent lobbying for change and the manual labor of cleaning up our waterways.

“My father taught [me] to conserve — I mean, that’s where we eat, that’s where I make a living. So, that’s what’s important, because this is one of the only areas someone doesn’t own — we all own it,” said Huie.

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