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Press Releases

April 22, 2005

Cheva Heck/NOAA Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary
(305) 292-0311, Ext. 26
(305) 304-0179 (cellular)


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, biologists are restoring several boat grounding sites off Marathon in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. By using native fill material to restore three blowholes in the seagrass beds, restoration experts hope to prevent the injured areas from deteriorating further and create a foundation for the renewed growth of seagrass.

NOAA biologists are working with several contractors, including Seagrass Recovery, Inc. and Adventure Environmental, to place more than 350 cubic meters of native crushed limestone, enough to fill nearly seven backyard swimming pools, in blowholes created by the Myra Lee, the Dream On and an unknown vessel.

"Placing fill back in these blowholes is the first step in restoring the shape of the banks," said Sean Meehan of NOAA's Damage Assessment Center. "Nature will then move ahead and slowly start to reclaim the injured area, provided no other groundings occur on top of the site."

The Myra Lee, a 57-foot Fairline cabin cruiser, ran aground on Aug. 3, 2000, doing over 91 square meters of damage, which has since expanded to more than 132 square meters. The case settled for $27,864. The Dream On, a 50-foot cabin cruiser, ran aground on March 13, 2000, doing 182.67 square meters of injury, and settled for $47,772. The third blowhole is an "orphan" site, for which NOAA could not identify the vessel that caused the injuries.

The three sites are located at Red Bay Banks on the gulfside of Marathon, a hot spot for vessel groundings. Monroe County recently installed shoal markers at the site in an attempt to reduce problems in the area. While merely running aground can create propeller scars and other injuries that may take years to heal, the largest amount of injury from vessel groundings often occurs when grounded boaters attempt to use their engines to move their vessel into deeper water.

The National Marine Sanctuaries Act authorizes NOAA to seek damages from the responsible party in a grounding to cover response costs, injury and damage assessment costs, costs to restore or replace the damaged habitat or acquire equivalent habitat, and costs to compensate the public for the value of the damage resources until they fully recover.

NOAA will use funds from a number of different grounding case settlements to restore the sites, including the Myra Lee and Dream On cases. Another major source of funding is the Great Lakes Dock and Dredge case, which involved injuries caused by a flotilla of tug boats carrying dredge pipes and resulted in the largest settlement ever obtained in a seagrass case in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

While the coral reefs are the sanctuary's most famous resource, seagrass meadows and other habitats, such as the mixed seagrass and finger coral bottom at Red Bay Banks, are critical to fish and other marine life populations. Seagrass also filters and stabilizes sediments, helping to create clear waters.

Designated in 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of coral reefs, seagrass meadows, hardbottom communities, mangrove shorelines and mud and sand habitat. NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program and the state of Florida jointly manage the sanctuary.

The NMSP seeks to increase the public awareness of America's maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the NOAA sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one coral reef ecosystem reserve that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

The NOAA National Ocean Service manages the NMSP, and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans. NOS balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats, and mitigating coastal hazards.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.

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