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Dec. 2, 2009

Karrie Carnes
305-809-4700 ext. 236

Vernon Smith

NOAA Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Sewage Discharge Ban in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

NOAA seeks comment on a proposed rule prohibiting the discharge of sewage from vessels into Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary waters and to require vessel sewage tanks be locked to prevent discharges within sanctuary boundaries. Comments will be accepted through February 17, 2010.

Vessel sewage discharge has been prohibited in state waters of the sanctuary since their designation as a No Discharge Zone by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002. Although 65 percent of the sanctuary is within state waters, the remaining federal waters, with the exception of specially-protected zones, currently permit vessel sewage discharge.

The sanctuary’s coral reefs and marine life are vulnerable to viruses and excess nutrients found in much of this sewage,” said Sean Morton, acting sanctuary superintendent. “This rule will improve water quality in the sanctuary and protect its ecosystems and the local economy.”

Current sanitation treatment devices do not kill all viruses found in wastewater, nor do they remove nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen, a contributor to degraded water quality and toxic algal blooms. Excessive amounts of nutrients can harm coral reef ecosystems by stimulating the growth of fast-growing aquatic plants and algae, which in turn smother and kill live coral.

Comments on the proposed rule and the accompanying draft environmental assessment will be accepted if received on or before February 17, 2010.

Comments may be submitted electronically via the eRulemaking Portal (, FDMS Docket Number NOAA– NOS–2009–0181; or by mail to Sean Morton, Acting Superintendent, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, 33 East Quay Road, Key West, Florida 33040.

The proposed sewage discharge rule follows other recent efforts to better protect the Sanctuary’s coral resources. In August 2009, a final rule on technical corrections and minor substantive changes to the Sanctuary regulations took effect, which made important clarifications and adjusted several citations that were out of date. The rule’s changes included modifying the definition of coral, prohibiting the touching of coral and increasing to 100 yards the minimum distance approaching vessels must maintain between a buoy or vessel with a “diver down” flag indicating a SCUBA diver is in the water.

Established in 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of important marine habitat, including maritime heritage resources, as well as coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary.

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