When too many boaters drop anchor for an on-the-water Florida Keys party, the marine environment may suffer. Advisers to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary will discuss “challenges and issues” created by “marine events and concentrated uses such as party areas, raft-ups, and boat races.” Members of the Sanctuary Advisory Council requested a session on large boating events, sanctuary spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz said. Sanctuary managers have not taken a position on any new regulation, Pawlitz said. “We understand these types of recreational events are popular, but the sanctuary has to consider effects on marine resources, and try to find the right balance,” she said.
Last November, more than 100 boats in Key West for the annual powerboat races traveled the 14 miles to Boca Grande, an island within the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Boats anchored on nearby flats and ran aground on the uninhabited island’s sandy beach. In January, Monroe County Commissioners blocked a recommendation to spend $10,000 in Tourist Development Council funding to promote a new boating raft-up in Key Largo during this year’s Columbus Day holiday in October. Boat races were among scheduled activities in Key Largo, although organizers with the Florida Powerboat Club said the races were being scaled back in favor of a “cruising rendezvous.
“Nancy Finley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manager of the Florida Keys Wildlife Refuge Complex, said Friday that organized and promoted events in wildlife refuge waters “do need a permit and a compatibility determination.” Finley will speak at Tuesday’s sanctuary council meeting at the Hyatt Place Marathon resort, along with representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.The Boca Grande situation “has been resolved, from my point of view,” Finley said. “They need a permit. At this point, no one has asked for one.” “Any event that is expected to draw large interest and focus on one section of the refuge, whether there is money involved or if it’s a non-profit, is going to need a compatibility determination.” Boca Grande, she noted, has seen significant erosion of its sandy beach that is a critical turtle-nesting area. The island also houses a very rare colony of the protected Miami Blue butterfly. Some Lower Matecumbe Key residents have complained about noise from boat gatherings off a neighborhood. FWC officers have said that without seeing illegal activity or environmental damage occurring, there was little they could do.Any recommendations from the Sanctuary Advisory Council would undergo review by federal and state staff.