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by Clyde Powell




Key West Area Parks Dry Tortugas National Park Today

What's going on at
Dry Tortugas National Park Today

In two incidents on December 16, 2001 and January 3, 2002, three shrimp boats grounded in the Dry Tortugas National Park, 68 miles west of Key West, Fla. One vessel grounded and was successfully removed, but not before significant damage to coral and seagrass beds occurred. The second incident involved two shrimp boats that grounded close to the historic Fort Jefferson. One vessel broke-up and spilled approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The other was carried by surge and wind up against the moat wall, where it partially broke-up. The area of these groundings is both within and adjacent to the park's most popular swimming and snorkeling area. The groundings caused significant injuries to seagrass and numerous reef corals.

Given the remote location of the site, response and salvage efforts are difficult and expensive. The NOAA Restoration Center secured funding agreements from several sources: NOAA Restoration Center funds, the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Region coral reef initiative, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Emergency Response and the Disney Corporation's Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Tortugas Ecological Reserve
Effective July 1, 2001

After years of planning, and the signature of the Florida Governor and cabinet on April 24th, rules designed to protect the diverse marine life and lush coral reefs of the Tortugas in a no-take Ecological Reserve take effect July 1, 2001 in the westernmost waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The Tortugas Ecological Reserve is broken into two sections. Tortugas North is located to the west of Dry Tortugas National Park, comprises 90 square nautical miles of ocean habitat, and contains some of the most spectacular and pristine coral reefs in the Florida Keys and North America. Tortugas South is located to the southwest of Dry Tortugas National Park, comprises 60 square nautical miles of ocean and includes the critical spawning grounds of Riley’s Hump.
In Tortugas North, the new regulations prohibit all taking of marine life, restrict vessel discharges to cooling water and engine exhaust, prohibit anchoring and prohibit use of mooring buoys by vessels more than 100 feet in combined length. The regulations would allow diving and snorkeling, but require visitors to obtain a simple no-cost, phone-in permit to ensure that all vessels have access to mooring buoys, ease enforcement and assist in monitoring visitor impacts. To request a permit to visit Tortugas North, contact the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary office in Key West (305) 292-0311 or in
Marathon (305) 743-2437.
Regulations for Tortugas South also prohibit taking of marine life and restrict vessel discharges. In addition, to ease enforcement in this remote region, the regulations prohibit diving in Tortugas South (the majority of which is beyond normal recreational diving depth), requiring vessels to be in continuous transit through the area with fishing gear stowed.
The National Park Service has been working side-by-side with NOAA and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to designate a type of no-take area called a Research Natural Area which would be located within Dry Tortugas National Park and would be compatible with the Tortugas Ecological Reserve. Plans for this Research Natural Area can be found in the revisions to the General Management Plan for Dry Tortugas National Park. These combined actions would result in a world-class “no-take” ecological reserve in the Tortugas.
The Sanctuary based the Tortugas Ecological Reserve plan on a proposal drafted by the Tortugas 2000 working group and adopted by the Sanctuary Advisory Council. The 25-member working group included commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, scientists, conservationists, citizens-at-large and resource managers. The process to develop the reserve has drawn accolades as a model for collaborative reserve design.
The Tortugas Ecological Reserve will join the Sanctuary’s network of 23 no-take areas established in 1997 (including one ecological reserve). The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (305) 743-2437.
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