When South Florida was struck by Hurricane Irma last September, the above-ground effects were obvious. Homes destroyed, businesses demolished, and the Florida Keys left in sunken shambles.
What was not as apparent was what the powerful storm did to reshape Florida’s maritime structures.
Irma’s winds pushed around massive amounts of sand and uncovered ancient reefs while it buried others closer to its path. Some channels were filled or reconfigured.
In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary alone there were at least 800 buoys that marked navigation or provided moorings for boaters that were ripped free. The areas and markers must be surveyed in order to provide safe and accurate information to boaters.
Meanwhile, under the water, debris ranging from boats to fence posts to water tanks were thrust into the murky depths and created new underwater hazards.
The mud banks and seagrass flats puzzled around the maze of islands has always made navigation a challenge, but the newly scrambled formations made it nearly impossible in parts.
If debris is blocking a channel, it will most likely be removed. But if the channel is filled, dredging could be necessary, although a more complicated fix. The decision to dredge would be made by the U.S. Coast Guard, which maintains the channels.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the only barrier coral reef in North America and the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world, runs from the north end of Biscayne Bay to the Dry Tortugas. The organization is teaming up with the boating industry and leaders in maritime mapping to undertake the strenuous task of mapping the changes.
From January 19 through sometime in February, the Sanctuary is asking boaters to report changes to Navionics, an Italian company that produces navigational charts. Navionics also helped chart changes in the northeast after Superstorm Sandy.
Working together with Navionics will allow the Marine Sanctuary to properly assess the 2,800 or so square miles or which they are responsible.
To learn more about the effects Hurricane Irma had on Florida’s waterways and structures, visit NOAA.