COLD FRONT DROPS DAMAGING DEBRIS ON REEF TRACT

Hundreds of small buoys balled together marked the location of the net below. NOAA/Contributed

A 1,000-pound fishing net and a 1,000-pound buoy produced weighty concerns for managers of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary who protect coral reefs. A holiday cold front carried the items onto the reef tract. Both have now been removed.

On New Year’s Day, local charter Capt. Brice Barr was at the helm of his Double Down fishing boat. Near Eastern Dry Rocks Sanctuary Preservation Area, Barr spotted a ball of nearly 100 red buoys floating above a derelict fishing net lodged on the sea floor in about 60 feet of water.     

“I saw it through my binoculars and didn’t know what it was, so we went over to take a closer look,” said Barr. “I wanted to at least get it back into the sand but couldn’t move it.”

Although the net was lodged in a stationary location, its potential release was a threat to nearby coral restoration efforts at Eastern Dry Rocks, where more than 30,000 baby corals have been outplanted. 

Barr notified FWC and sanctuary staff, and Regional Response Coordinator Lisa Symons organized a solution. First, she connected with potential salvors to obtain a quote for the cost of removal, and then set out to find the money. That’s when the board of the Marine Preservation Society of the Florida Keys, a new nonprofit, quickly reviewed and chose to approve the request for funds. 

“We live here and give here,” said society chairman Tom Davidson Jr. “Reacting quickly to this kind of need is at the heart of our mission.”

With the cost approved, Key West Harbor Services tackled the job on Jan. 5, retrieving and hauling the net to its Stock Island facility, where it was estimated to weigh more than 1,000 pounds and measured more than 30 feet in length.

“It’s a type of gill net used on commercial fishing boats, which are prohibited in state of Florida waters,” Symons said. “Their use is regulated in federal waters. … We are working with NOAA oceanographers to try to determine where it may have been lost or cut loose.”

The net was recovered in 30 feet of water about 150 yards from a SPA mooring buoy. The unidentified boat from which it came is subject to civil penalties, and anyone with information is encouraged to call NOAA’s law enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964. 

“This story is a good reminder that if you see something, say something,” said Sarah Fangman, sanctuary superintendent. “It ended well because of quick action by Capt. Brice Barr, and we are grateful to him and his colleagues who provide critical eyes on the water.”

Meanwhile, a pair of marker buoys that delineate the boundary of Dry Tortugas National Park were lost during the Christmas weather, with one of them lodging on the reef at Carysfort South Sanctuary Preservation Area east of Key Largo, and the other making it to Boynton Beach.  Chafing of the buoy line lacerated some of the corals in the Carysfort Sanctuary Preservation Area. 

”We are grateful for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary cooperation and assistance in the recovery of one of our boundary buoys lost in a recent storm,” said Glenn Simpson, Dry Tortugas National Park superintendent. The park funded removal of the buoy, which took place on Jan. 10.More information on the Marine Preservation Society is available from Sara Rankin at [email protected].