NYC Parks launches new office on Jamaica Bay to keep city waterway safe from derelict vessels

NYC Park Commissioner Sue Donoghue delivers remarks at the opening of the Office of Marine Debris Disposal and Vessel Surrendering on the Brooklyn side of Jamaica Bay.
Photo courtesy of NYC Parks/ Daniel Avila

NYC Parks recently began removing abandoned boats from the waters off City Island in the Bronx under the auspices of its new Office of Marine Debris Removal and Vessel Surrendering, which opened in Brooklyn on Apr. 15.

The new headquarters is at Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach, across Jamaica Bay in the Rockaways. This location was chosen following legislation spearheaded by Council Member Joann Ariola, who, after discussions with local community leaders, recognized their longstanding frustrations with bureaucratic obstacles in removing derelict vessels from the bay.

Council Member Joann Ariola introduced legislation to cut down the red tape it took to removed derelict vessels from Jamaica Bay and other city waterways. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks/ Daniel Avila

“In the past, the process to remove marine debris from our waterways was often overly complicated and mired in red tape,” Ariola said. With the creation of the Office of Marine Disposal and Vessel Surrendering, we are streamlining this process while also giving boat owners an economical and environmentally friendly alternative to abandonment. This will go a long way towards cleaning our shorelines and will improve New York City’s waterways for generations to come.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ariola watched as NYC Parks officials destroyed a boat that had been abandoned in Jamaica Bay since Hurricane Sandy struck over a decade ago. She highlighted the environmental hazards posed by such derelict vessels, noting their potential to leak oil and fuels and how their fiberglass hulls release large amounts of microplastics into the water.

A boat that was abandoned during Superstorm Sandy was destroyed after the ribbon-cutting. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks/ Daniel Avila
Photo courtesy of NYC Parks/ Daniel Avila

Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers, representing the eastern end of the Rockaways, expressed her ongoing commitment to addressing these issues. She emphasized her support for innovative measures like NYC Local Law 46 of 2023, which led to the recent establishment of the Office of Marine Debris Disposal and Vessel Surrendering. “This office aims to prevent and clean abandoned and derelict vessels, which can harm marine habitats and leak pollutants into the surrounding environment,” she said.

New Hamilton Beach Civic Association President Roger Gendron best described the hazards caused by the wreckage. “Imagine driving along a highway littered with broken-down vehicles spread willy-nilly across the roadway, yet this is the situation around Jamaica Bay and its canals,” Gendron said. “While the abandoned and sunken boats throughout the area are an eyesore, the environmental impacts may not be measured for quite some time.”

A concern shared by Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers Vice President Dan Mundy Jr. “For the last 20 years, we have been struggling with the issues of marine debris, abandoned boats and abandoned docks that litter the shoreline and damage the environment of the bay,” Mundy said. “Previously, there was no way to have these items removed from the shores, wetlands and the water of Jamaica Bay and throughout the city. No agency was tasked with this and it became a blight on the shores of areas like Jamaica Bay.”

Well over 800 derelict vessels are located along New York City’s 520-mile shoreline, which is longer than the shorelines of Miami, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco combined.

“Throughout our city’s history, the New York City waterfront has been critical to our prosperity, environmental health and natural beauty — and today, we’re taking a new step forward in caring for this vital natural resource,” NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said. “With this new office and innovative vessel turn-in program, we are protecting our shoreline from floating risks and sunken hazards, benefitting the people, flora and fauna that rely on a healthy and clean waterfront.”

The vessel turn-in program is the first of its kind in New York State to assist members of the public who have no other means of responsibly disposing of their boats. Proactive removal of vessels before they become floating risks or sunken hazards is one of the most effective measures for protecting the public and the natural environment.

“Our work caring for our city’s natural spaces doesn’t stop at the water’s edge, and this new program underscores our commitment to maintaining safe, healthy spaces that New Yorkers can take pride in and enjoy,” Donoghue said.

For over a decade, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) partnered with NYC Parks to remove abandoned, dangerous and polluting boats and debris from the city’s waterways.

“We congratulate NYC Parks as the new Office of Marine Debris Disposal and Vessel Surrendering sets sail, and we will continue to offer support navigating the contracting and technical resources to perform these water-based operations moving forward,” DCA Deputy Commissioner and NYC Chief Fleet Officer Keith Kerman said. “We look forward to setting our course and working alongside the waterfront and marine operations team at NYC Parks to chart a path towards cleaner seas.”