Canal Restoration

Public Notice: The Airgate Bubble Curtains essential to the Canal Restoration Projects were damaged during Hurricane Irma in September 2016. Islamorada applied for funding through the FEMA Public Assistance Program to replace multiple components to AirGate Bubble Curtains at three canals to restore them back to their pre-disaster conditions. Curtains assist with  debris  control  in  the  village’s  canals. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has received the subgrant application for the Village of Islamorada Islands’ AirGate Bubble Curtain repairs at Canals # 145, 148, and 132, due to damages in Hurricane Irma (DR-4337-FL PW 06017).  Pursuant to Executive Order 11988 and 44 CFR Part 9.12, final notice is hereby given of FEMA’s intent to provide funding for this project under the Public Assistance (PA) Program.

Final Public Notice of FEMA's intent to provide project funding under the Public Assistance Program (pdf)

Canal Restoration

The desire to live in the Florida Keys, especially ON the water, increased throughout the decades as more people wanted their “little piece of paradise”. Particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, when property developers responded to the demand by dredging and filling land to create subdivisions and canals throughout Monroe County. 

(Photograph credit: Monroe County Pulic Library website) Aerial of Safety Harbor on Lower Matecumbe Key.
Photo taken by the Federal Government on October 7, 1987. From the Wright Langley Collection. 

In all, over 170 miles of canals exist in the Florida Keys. Islamorada, Village of Islands is a municipality within Monroe County that comprises four islands: Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe and Lower Matecumbe Key. Within Islamorada, there are approximately 24 miles of canals. As with most of the canal systems in Monroe County, the major problem is that their construction did not allow for any type of water circulation. When there is no flushing of the system, seaweed accumulates, sinks to the bottom and decomposes. This process depletes oxygen from the water, killing sea life and causing a myriad of environmental issues.  


Drift seaweed floating into an Islamorada oceanside canal on a southeast wind 


(Photographic credit: Rea Glass, 2014)
Impaired canal in Islamorada prior to
restoration efforts showing accumulated
seaweed that decomposes and depletes
the oxygen from the water


Seaweed_decomposition_picture_3 (Photographic credit: Eddie Wightman)
The seaweed in decomposition stage,
fouling and depleting oxygen from the water 

In addition to poor water circulation, another huge issue was affecting our canals… sewage.  However, throughout the last two decades, achievements were made which included a transformation from septic tanks to a central sewer system and improved wastewater treatment.  As with other areas in the County, Islamorada has a ‘Stormwater Master Plan’ and has recently completed its ‘Wastewater Master Plan’. But even with human sourced pollution under much improved control, the canals were still not healthy. 

Many canals throughout Monroe County do not meet the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) minimum water quality criteria and pose as a potential source of nutrients and other contaminants to our near shore waters. In September 2013, Monroe County completed a comprehensive Canal Management Master Plan (CMMP) which developed a prioritization for canal restoration and outlined feasible strategies to improve the water quality in the canals throughout the Florida Keys. 

Early in 2012, Islamorada began participating in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries Subcommittee on Canal Restoration, and shortly after, the Village Council approved moving forward with a series of canal restoration projects.  By 2017, Islamorada had completed and were monitoring two canal restoration projects and were nearing completion of a third.  These consisted of an aeration system and weed barriers which utilized a curtain of air bubbles which blocks drift algae and other seaweed from entering canals. The projects were a success and homeowners were thrilled with the results. Watch our video to see the weed barrier in action.

View the video of Islamorada's first canal restoration project completed in 2015:
Improving our waterways.


 Underwater photo of the air curtain Underwater photo of the air curtain 


Aerial view of the air curtain  Aerial view of the air curtain 


Aerial view of the air curtain blocking seaweed  Aerial view of an air
curtain blocking seaweed 

Hurricane Irma’s passage across the Keys on September 10, 2017 brought winds and storm surge that did not spare Islamorada’s canal restoration projects.  The equipment operating all three projects was either destroyed or lost. By July of 2018 though, we had our original restoration project on Plantation Key up and running again and were close to reestablishing the other two on Lower Matecumbe Key. 

Islamorada is also currently working on initiating a new canal restoration project on Plantation Key which will utilize a gravity injection well that promotes circulation throughout the water column, providing the life-giving oxygen. The implementation of this technology would be the first of its kind for the canal restoration program. 

The results of Islamorada’s canal restoration program are being used to determine the effectiveness of restoration techniques, to further define restoration costs, and to aid in future grant applications for continued restoration. 

Islamorada partners with Florida International University to monitor the ecologic conditions of the canals to determine what changes are taking place before and after canal restoration.

canal_factsheet_2018click here to view or download the above document titled Experimental canal restoration in the Florida Keys

Peter Frezza
Environmental Resources Manager
Phone: 305-664-6427