Events to help clean up Irma debris

Hurricane Irma’s great blow to southeast Florida’s watery national parks gives recreational mariners and fishing-doers the opportunity to not only fret about damage and diminished access, but also to appreciate the National Park Service’s prompt action to clear debris, re-open closed areas and fix whatever is repairable.

As of Sept. 24, the National Park Service reported having its Eastern Incident Management Team of “367 laborers, saw teams, arborists, heavy equipment operators and other employees on the ground in South Florida, along the Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean” — where there are six national parks and monuments, all of them hit first by Hurricane Irma and again by Maria.

Irma gave us other opportunities, too — to participate in the recovery of Biscayne, Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks and the Big Cypress National Preserve by volunteering to work on cleanup and recovery projects, by donating money or both.

That part is being put together by the locally-run South Florida National Parks Trust, a non-government outfit with a long, consistent record of generosity to park needs that otherwise would not be met.

Visit its website’s dedicated page at for donation info and a volunteer sign-up form.

Jessica Pierce, who’s organizing the volunteers, doesn’t think it will take long to get into action.

“We are already in discussion with Biscayne to organize some volunteer events in the next few weeks and I think Everglades will be getting some opportunities together as well,” she said on Sept. 23. Got questions? You can email Pierce or phone 305-665-4769.

Our updates date to Sept. 24, when it was announced that Dry Tortugas would be reopened the next day — the waters and seven islands, including the Garden Key campground outside Fort Jefferson.

It won’t look the same as it did last time you were there, with most of the trees down or denuded. A section of the fort’s moat collapsed and you’ll find it barricaded.
Ferry service from Key West to the fort isn’t scheduled to resume until Oct. 28, so in the near term you’ll have to go on your own by private boat or float plane. Boaters need to be alert to new hazards, not yet shown on chart plotters.
Prudent navigation would include slower than usual speeds and all eyes overboard to look for sunken obstacles not yet discovered or marked.
Anyone heading to Dry Tortugas should check first at the park website: Last time we looked, on a Sunday, the alerts posted there were a week old.