Florida Keys

Three months after Hurricane Irma, canals in the Florida Keys are still full of debris

This canal at the Key by the Sea condo complex in Marathon is still full of debris three months post-Hurricane Irma.
This canal at the Key by the Sea condo complex in Marathon is still full of debris three months post-Hurricane Irma. Keynoter

A photo of manatees in a Florida Keys canal surrounded by Hurricane Irma debris posted to Facebook has sparked outrage online.

The photo was posted Dec. 7 in the Facebook group “Irma Big Pine Key” and it was later clarified the canal is in Marathon’s Key by the Sea condo complex, mile marker 50.5 oceanside. As of this week, the canal is still full of debris.

“The manatees come up through windows of the RVs in the canal. It’s just sickening,” said office manager Angela Sanders.

She lives in the park and “knows it by heart,” she said, adding she believes there are 16 trailers in the canal.

“There are sheds in there, trailers and everything that was in these homes,” Sanders said. “Their furniture, their silverware, their dishes, their shampoo, bleach, oil, propane tanks — anything you’ve got in your house right now, 16 of that is in the canal.”

It’s been more than three months since Hurricane Irma tore through the Florida Keys, and the Key by the Sea condo complex canal is one of many still full of debris.

Last “weekend, we went in and started clearing the canal ourselves but there was only so much we could do,” Sanders said.

As for the manatees, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation representative could not say how many have been affected by the debris or whether there have been any deaths directly caused by it.

“Our rescue teams have been working hard to respond to reports through FWC’s wildlife alert hotline, (888)-404-3922,” said Michelle Kerr, public information specialist for the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “We encourage citizens to give manatees their space and not interfere with any injured or entangled manatees so officials can respond.”

Dr. Katie Tripp is the Maitland-based Save the Manatee Club’s director of science and conservation. She said she hasn’t heard of the debris having an impact on manatee life.

“Sometimes they’ll investigate it and they’re curious about what’s in their environment,” she said. “Once they discover it’s not food they mosy on. They move around a lot.”

It could be January, four months post hurricane, before cleanup of canals begins. Each municipality has to work out a memorandum of understanding with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the FWC, said county public information officer Cammy Clark.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Planner George Garrett said canal cleanup in Marathon will probably start Jan. 1. He said the DEP will take care of debris and derelict boats will be handled by the FWC. The city has to amend an ordinance created after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 to allow the cleanup to start. That should happen Tuesday at an emergency meeting of the City Council.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219