Environmental Impacts of Abandoned Boats

A beached abandoned ship with a colorful sky in the background.
Abandoned Boats | af_istocker from Canva

An abandoned vessel in the Baltimore harbor recently drifted into Harbor East Marina, wreaking havoc among the slips. The general manager didn’t know what to do about this, so he called the Coast Guard. They couldn’t help and provided resources to contact, but removing the boat was not an easy task. After a lengthy process and wild goose chase, he finally tracked down the original owner to properly dispose of the vessel. Despite the eventual success, imagine the environmental damage and safety threats this caused in the meantime. 

Scientists have long researched aquatic damage from ships that are not properly discarded.  Many have discovered manufacturing tools that go into engineering such as fiberglass technology and other materials, greatly contribute to the problem.  This includes plastics, glass and other pollutants.

Environmental organizations are increasingly spreading awareness about abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) that threaten the health of aquatic ecosystems and wildlife habitats, as well as risk overall boating safety. When a vessel is discarded and left out in the water to sink, it doesn’t quite fade away into a proper burial. Boat material debris and microplastics break off over time and get tangled in motors, cause structural damage and pose threats to navigation and watersport safety. Not to mention the toxicity created throughout our marine wildlife environments.

“Ranging from small dinghies to large fishing vessels with steel hulls, ADVs are a common problem throughout the country and around the world,” reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Response and Restoration. 

This negligence not only affects our environment, but it also adds to unnecessary and inefficient use of resources when calls come into the Coast Guard, National Resources Police, divers and local authorities who are assumed to help — but often can not.

A news report from WPLG Local 10 in Miami-Dade County, FL, addressed the region’s current ADV crisis, which only appears to be getting worse. The area’s environmental resource management team reports that 51 derelict vessels were recently removed from Biscayne Bay, which is only a third of what is still lingering in the waterways.


> Always reduce, reuse, recycle! Proper disposal of metals, plastics and other hazardous boat materials are crucial to a clean environment.

> Properly discard the vessels at a local landfill or salvage shop, or research voluntary vessel disposal programs.

> Check out educational resources such as the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) webinar series, Salvaging Solutions to Abandoned and Derelict Vessels. 

> The MDP also provides a Marine Debris Emergency Response Guide that assists states with storm preparation to prevent and respond to ADVs.

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