Group recovers 80 abandoned boats off NC coast

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HOLLY RIDGE, NC (WWAY) — A conservation group and several state organizations are removing dozens of abandoned boats along North Carolina’s coast.

Since Hurricane Florence in 2018, North Carolina has documented about 400 abandoned boats along its waterways and coastline. Only half of those have been removed.

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Over the past couple of decades, North Carolina has experienced a lot of change. More people are moving to the coast, more people are boating, and North Carolina has experienced more deadly storms; 19 deadly storms between 2000 and 2020.

“With the severity of the storms, increase in boats, the combination together leads to more abandoned and derelict boats,” said Ted Wilgis, a coastal scientist with NC Coastal Federation.

In response, the state general assembly set aside funds for the Wildlife Resource Commission to remove 80 boats owners have abandoned, refusing to remove them from the water.

“Because they’re private property,” Wilgis explained, “we want to make sure that we are safeguarding people’s private property. But at the same time, if something’s abandoned and it’s harmful to the environment as well as to the economy, we want to get it removed.”

By harmful, Wilgis meant these ships can contaminate the water with leftover fuel and pieces of the vessel. It’s a perfect storm of pollution that affects North Carolina wildlife, fishing, recreating, and tourism, Wilgis said.

“We have six field crews of fishermen working from Carteret County all the way down to Brunswick County picking up debris by hand. They’ve picked up over 600 tons since July.”

This week, the North Carolina Coastal Federation removed a boat near Masonboro Island. Friday, they used wooden boards and an excavator to pull the once sunken boat onto Holly Ridge’s mainland. According to Wilgis, the vessel will be unsalvageable.

“Most times the boats have been out there for several years. They are in very bad condition. And unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done except basically…. they pull them out, they crunch them up with at large excavator, put them in a dumpster, and it goes to the landfill.”

That’s not the only waste abandoned boats can cause. According to Wilgis, these vessels can cost between 4,000 and 80,000 dollars to remove, depending on their size, condition, and whether they are still floating.

Costs can be reduced if boat owners do their part before a storm hits.

“People that have boats need to be aware that this is a potential and you have to take steps to avoid it.”

According to Wilgis, out of the coastal counties WWAY covers, New Hanover has the most abandoned vessels. Craven and Carteret counties have the most in North Carolina.