HARKERS ISLAND — The North Carolina Coastal Federation has been awarded a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to clean up marine debris near Harkers Island.

This large-scale cleanup is set to begin this fall.

The project will remove tons of debris left behind from a clam-growing operation that went out of business decades ago. Plastic, netting, cages, buoys, pipes and ropes are creating navigation hazards, and are littering salt marshes, seagrass beds and oyster beds.

Over the years, storms have caused this trash to end up on shorelines and in salt marshes.

“It will be good to remove this junk, and restore these waters to their once pristine condition,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the federation. “More importantly, we will use this project to help ensure that existing and future shellfish farming operations don’t contribute to marine debris problems going forward.”

The grant will allow the federation to work with shellfish growers and other interested stakeholders to devise best management practices for disposal and prevention of marine debris that could be generated by shellfish mariculture operations. The project will also utilize drone technology to identify debris impacts on habitat and monitor habitat recovery.

“Most growers do a good job of policing themselves by removing gear and cleaning up their operation, especially after storms,” said Bree Tillett, coastal specialist for the federation. “We will look to develop some additional safeguards to ensure that a few bad actors don’t give the entire shellfish mariculture industry a bad name.”

A jointly developed presentation on best management practices related to marine debris will be delivered by North Carolina Sea Grant to all aquaculture lease applicants in order to prevent this from happening in the future. These best management practices will be incorporated into Sea Grant’s classes for shellfish growers and lease holders.

The federation will hire a marine contractor to assist with this cleanup. The federation will also host five shoreline cleanups in order to spread the message about this project. All materials cleaned up at the site will be cataloged and weighed.

This project is being conducted in close partnership with Duke University Marine Laboratory and the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory.

For more information about this project, please contact Bree Tillett at 252-393-8185 or breet@nccoast.org. Stay updated on the progress of this project at nccoast.org/marinedebris.