The US Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for keeping debris out of New York's Harbor, whether it's dead whales, helicopters, driftwood, or floating docks. Without the Corps the harbor and the outlying beaches of the Rockaways and the Jersey Shore would be filled with massive pieces of debris and ships would risk being critically damaged. Using specially equipped boats the Corps pulls flotsam and jetsam out of the water with cranes and nets.
Every year the Corps pulls 530,000 cubic feet of debris out of the NY Waterways. These waterways fall underneath the 25 mile radius of NYC that constitutes the Corps' jurisdiction. The Corps goes out every day of the year (except Christmas) to make sure the area is kept safe. Three boats split up the waterways depending on what type of equipment is needed.
There are boats with crane arms to pull large debris out of the water along with other watercraft with nets for catching lots of smaller pieces that wouldn't be worth a crane's time. The ship I was on is named the Hayward. It's captained by Brian Aballo, a man who has been keeping the harbor safe for 34 years.
The Hayward's crane is capable of holding 20 tons of debris at once. And if the crane were on land it would be capable of closer to 65 tons. Two cables come off the tip of the crane: the whipwire and the mainfall. My time spent with the Corps only allowed demonstration of the whipwire, though the mainfall is significantly stronger.
Captain Aballo explained that debris is more common during full or new moons when the tide is extra high but slows down in between. Of course weather plays a role too; the year following Sandy was a exceptionally big year for debris totaling up to 670,000 cubic feet that year. He joked when I asked if he'd need to do much work tomorrow; he always replies "I don't know. You tell me what's happening in the Harbor tonight, I'll tell you how it'll be tomorrow."
Days that start and end early are common for workers in the harbor and the Corps is no exception. After a full morning and afternoon of following colliding currents and investigating call ins from other shipmasters the Hayward and other Corps ships head to a pair of anchored barges they have near their docks in New Jersey. After everything is unloaded the crew heads home before another day on the water, painstaking cleaning up the harbor one piece of debris at a time.