Park staff intends to designate 102,838 acres of shallow water — about 160.7 square miles — as “poll or troll zones” where use of outboard motors would not be allowed. Another 24,588 acres (38.4 square miles) of the bay would be designated as “poll, troll or idle” areas.
Notice of the new management plan was published in Friday’s Federal Register.
The Florida Bay zones aim “to provide more accurate resource-based zones that protect ecological and wilderness values while providing appropriate access to key destinations and across the bay,” Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades National Park, said in a statement.
Most traditional boating channels will remain open, according to the plan. Park staff notes that about two-thirds of Florida Bay will stay open as “Boat Access Zones.” Zones are planned for specified Upper Keys shallow areas north of the Intracoastal Waterway. Several protect banks like Cross Bank and Upper Cross Bank, and areas around the Swash and Butternut Keys. The largest poll-troll-idle zone is southwest of the park’s Flamingo base.
A mandatory boater-education program for Everglades National Park waters also is being developed. Details are not final but the plan suggests it could be based on an online voluntary program called Eco-Mariner, created by the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We are really, really excited about the new management plan,” NPCA Sun Coast Regional Director John Adornato said Friday. “NPCA has worked for years to ensure that park-wide boater education programs are included in the final management plan,” Adornato said. “New pole-troll zones will go a long way to enhance the visitor experience and protect the seagrass beds and mangroves in Florida Bay.”
Florida Keys anglers who fish Florida Bay have largely endorsed the boater-education concept, but advocated limits on boat size rather than creating new no-motor zones. The plan also calls for improvements to the park’s Key Largo ranger station and science center. The 20-acre site could feature park information for visitors, and space for the boater-education program.
Everglades National park’s plan likely will become effective after a 30-day review period.
For the full plan, see the Everglades National Park GMP site at the website: http://parkplanning.nps.gov.