Concerns about some "over the top" proposals and calls for additional protected areas reached Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary advisers Tuesday as they considered potential rule changes for local waters.
"Whoever thought we would see guys with [water] jet packs flying around, and kiteboarders?" asked Sanctuary Advisory Council member Bruce Popham, presenting the findings of the Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection Working Group at the Islander Resort in Islamorada.
"We didn't think about this five years ago," Popham said. "We've got party zones, Jet Ski tours and eco-tour groups."
No decisions were made on the proposed 27 new nearshore areas and changes to 21 existing areas that were recommended by the working group for the sanctuary's updated management plan.
Popham said despite his years of Keys boating, he was "blown away" by the effect that boating could have on critical bird-nesting habitat.
Marathon guide Jeff Knapp said he found a proposal for an idle-speed area running along much of Marathon's Atlantic shoreline "unbelievable."
"I don't think there is damage out there to justify that," Knapp said in public comments. "We hear about regulations, fees and closures. A lot of it seems to be really over the top."
Michael McLoad, representing a coalition of Lower Matecumbe Key homeowner associations, urged the sanctuary to include a bayside shallow area that has been drawing large weekend crowds.
"During summer, there are 100-plus boats there every weekend. There is anchor damage and scarring," McLoad said. "Come see this carnival. It's pretty wild."
Peggy Mathews of the American Watercraft Association said the sanctuary needs to unveil a map showing all the areas.
"People need a big picture," she said. "What is the definition of a party zone? ... Let people understand what you're trying to do. You say you're 'protecting resources,' but that's pretty broad."
Later, she pointed to a suggested "tarpon migration lane" that could lead to idle-speed rules in water less than 10 feet deep in areas from Key West to Marathon during the spring months. The working group deferred a recommendation on the "migration lane."
"Water less than 10 feet covers a lot of area," she said. "That's crazy."
Ken Nedimyer presented the report from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration Working Group, which aims to "streamline" rules that cover regulations on coral-restoration nurseries and reef sites undergoing restoration.
David Vaughn and Nedimyer said recommendations may include temporary limited-access sites during active restoration at one of the 37 reefs considered "high priority" for coral replantings.
"We're not going to be closing a whole reef and taking away somebody's favorite dive site," Nedimyer said. "These are small areas and nothing happens until we get the permits and the funding."
"This is more than protecting the resources and hoping Mother Nature brings it back," Vaughn said. "This is active restoration."
The Ecosystem Protection Working Group considering possible additions to the Preservation Areas at the Keys reef meets twice more in July before presenting its findings to the full advisory council in August.
Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton recommended the advisory council meet for three days in mid-November to finalize its proposals for the new management plan.
A decision on that session was delayed after some council members said it would be difficult to commit three weekdays during a busy season.
Any recommendations forwarded by the Sanctuary Advisory Council this winter will go to public hearings and reviews by state and federal officials. No new rules will take effect before the summer of 2015.