Rob Mitchell

State says mooring balls aren't going anywhere

From Keys Net

A change in state dive-program regulations will leave deepwater mooring balls intact off the Florida Keys.

“In the Upper Keys, we stood to lose about 11 mooring balls on our shipwrecks,” said Rob Mitchell, owner of Keys Diver in Key Largo. “It would have been a substantial number.”

The mooring-buoy maintenance program, currently administered by the state Department of Environmental Protection on behalf of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, was poised to halt work on lines deeper than 100 feet, which exceeded the agency’s maximum depth for its divers.

In late October, the DEP amended its rules to allow its divers to exceed 100 feet, as long as the agency receives advance notice. Other safety rules also were put in place.

“This issue has been resolved and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has made changes to its dive program which will allow FKNMS to continue maintenance of these buoys,” Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton said in an e-mail this week.

Mitchell said the news was welcomed by the Keys dive industry, which was considering a plan to take over some of the deepwater mooring-buoy maintenance.

“Even with the buoys we have now, in our busy summer season we have dive boats waiting in line to use the mooring lines at the shipwrecks,” Mitchell said.

“If we lost 50 percent of the moorings, people would have been racing out there at 6 a.m. to tie off to one of the moorings.”

The mooring balls help preserve the underwater environment by not requiring boat crews to drop a heavy anchor.