Boaters operating in Florida Bay waters of Everglades National Park must complete an online education course under a new regulation expected to take effect within months. Read More
That pending rule prompted advisers to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to ponder whether a similar educational requirement could be adopted to help protect oceanic resources in the 2,900-square-mile sanctuary. he question returns to the volunteer sanctuary council at its next meeting, Oct. 18 in Ocean Reef on North Key Largo.
In August, Everglades National Park planner Fred Herling briefed the sanctuary council on the park’s new Florida Bay boating rules scheduled to “roll out in late 2016.” Those will require completion of a free one-hour online boat-operator course that focuses on “resource protection, safety [and] respectful boating.”
The course must be completed before boat owners can get an annual or seven-day permit to operate in park waters. Park boat permits likely will cost $50 per year or $25 for seven days, but fees may be phased in over a period of months. When enacted, fees to launch at the Flamingo ramp will be dropped.
Boat-permit proceeds, estimated at $500,000 annually, would help increase funding for on-the-water enforcement rangers, marker maintenance and marine research, Herling said.
Everglades National Park has authority to enact boat permit fees and operator-education requirements for Florida Bay waters that lie in its jurisdiction. The marine sanctuary lacks such authority.
With an updated management plan for the Keys sanctuary taking shape, now may be the time to seek a new boating-education rule, some council members suggested in August. Others expressed doubt, pointing to a complex maze of regulatory approvals needed at the state and federal level.
Advocates of boater education for sanctuary waters, largely intended to keep vessels from striking reefs or scarring shallow seagrass flats, have made their case since the national marine sanctuary’s inception in 1990. But enacting a sanctuary boating license remains little more than an uncertain concept.
The Oct. 18 agenda item, “Boater Education in the Florida Keys,” is scheduled for approximately 2:15 p.m. at the Ocean Reef Cultural Center.
“It’s essentially a continuation of the earlier discussion on the potential to seek something like Everglades National Park, whether it’s mandatory or voluntary,” Deputy Superintendent Beth Dieveney said Thursday.
Council members could ask for more specific information on the process or vote on a resolution.
The Sanctuary Advisory Council, comprising 20 appointed Keys representatives from community, business and conservation sectors, does not have rule-making authority. However, sanctuary staff generally give the council’s recommendations and guidance considerable weight.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206