The newly-acquired NOAA boat, Hawksbill, transports new boundary buoys to Carysfort Reef. BRITTANY NGUYEN/NOAA

Eleven boundary buoys at Carysfort Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) have been replaced following the maiden voyage of RV Hawksbill, the new work platform acquired by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s Upper Keys buoy team. 

The 36-foot Newton vessel, based in Key Largo, is a carbon copy of one delivered to the lower Keys team last year, featuring on-board hydraulics and pressure-washing capabilities. 

“The Hawksbill arrived in the Keys (in October) but we had a number of NOAA protocols to follow in order to get her approved for service,” said buoy team leader Brady Booton. “Her first day on the water was a classic Florida Keys dive opportunity, and the sea conditions allowed us to replace all of the yellow boundary buoys on what is our largest SPA.” 

The new vessel is named “Hawksbill” for a turtle species frequently seen in the Keys, and pairs with “Leatherback,” the moniker Monroe County Schools students last year voted to name the lower Keys vessel. The buoy teams maintain a network of more than 800 boundary, mooring and informational buoys spanning more than 100 miles. The single-day success at Carysfort illustrates the efficiency obtained by the new work platforms, which carry a modest 2-foot draft. Carysfort spans 1.5 square nautical miles and features an unusual double reef configuration.

“We appreciate all the understanding, patience and communication from the community to support the buoy team,” Booton said. “We are elated to see a turn of a new tide and finally have a platform that can be used for all necessary maintenance.”