Skimming the Surface of Water Pollution: Use of Marine Skimmers

UMI TrashCat™ operating on Jamaica Bay, New York City

UMI TrashCat™ operating on Jamaica Bay, New York City

In response to widely publicized beach closures, the New York State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) collaborated with federal, state, local, and private interests as part of a Floatables Action Program. As a result of this cooperative effort, virtually no beaches in New Jersey, New York City, and southern Long Island have been closed during the last two summers due to floating trash (“floatables”).

The purpose of the Floatables Action Program was to capture floating debris at its source and skim them from the estuary’s waters and beaches. The DEP received funding from the U.S. EPA to place floating containment barriers in front of a major combined sewer outfall affecting Jamaica Bay. This floating structure suspends nets in front of the outfall to trap floatables discharged during rain storms. DEP also began installing similar devices across other tributaries within Jamaica Bay. However, because these netting structures are not installed at every sewer outfall affecting the Harbour-Sound Bight Estuary, floatables must also be skimmed from surface waters.

Therefore, a key feature of DEP’s Floatables Action Program is a fleet of skimmer vessels which remove floating debris before it reaches area beaches. As part of New York City’s Skimmer Vessel Program, DEP launched the SV Piping Plover and the SV Ibis from the South Street Seaport during the summer of 1993. United Marine International designed and built both of these marine trash skimmer vessels. These 50 foot vessels, which began skimming floatables from Jamaica Bay, are the first of a projected fleet of five. Eventually DEP’s flotilla will include the smaller SV Heron and SV Egret, and the 100-foot SV Cormorant.

The SV Cormorant will operate in the rougher waters of the Upper and Lower Bays. It is also capable of operating within any area of the Harbor-Sound-Bight Estuary up to 15 miles offshore. This vessel will complement the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Harbor Drive Program, which removed derelict piers, vessels and other floating debris that prove hazardous to navigation.

DEP’s comprehensive program utilizing skimmer vessels and containment barriers to control floating debris is a part of a larger City-wide effort to reduce street litter that washes up on beaches. Although both these efforts will result in a cleaner shoreline surrounding New York Harbor, improving the water qualify of the Harbor-Sound-Bight Estuary ultimately will be accomplished by preventing pollution on the streets themselves. One such effort is DEP’s public education posters —CLEAN STREETS, CLEAN BEACHES— which appear on public transportation systems serving New York City, New Jersey and Long Island.

Source: 1994 New York Harbor Estuary Publication, by:  Cornell University • Center for the Environment of New York State • New York State Water Resources Institute under the direction of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection

For more information on The City of New York DEP Floatables Reduction Program, click here.