Marine debris — or trash in the water — is a problem everywhere including the Florida Keys. And it got a lot worse when Hurricane Irma crashed across the Keys in September of 2017 as a Category 4 storm.
It didn't just destroy homes and other buildings. It also blew a lot of stuff into the water.
In response, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary created a program that allowed some dive operators to run special trips for removing marine debris.
The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation provided some funding and Wednesday released a report on the first year of Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys.
More than 500 divers removed almost 15,000 pounds of debris from Keys reefs, according to the report.
One of the shops is Key Dives in Islamorada. Owner Mike Goldberg said the sanctuary foundation covered the running costs so they could have two dives a month, free to local volunteers to pick up debris.
"It allows me to involve our divers that live here and help them clean up their own backyard," he said.
The foundation says it hopes to expand and include more dive shops in the Keys — and is using the program as a model for cleanups in other marine sanctuaries, like the Channel Islands in California.
And it's not the only marine debris project in the Keys. The volunteer Conch Republic Marine Army has removed more than 300,000 pounds of trash from the nearshore waters of the Lower Keys — including 136 miles of trapline and 80 refrigerators.
The group's president Brian Vest said they are continuing with cleanups and events every four weeks and are focusing on the Gulf side of the Lower Keys.
Hurricane Irma "blew everything from land into the water in the backcountry," he said. "There's at least two million pounds that we need to get out."
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