When I first visited the Keys in the 1950s, the waters were pristine and reflective of a very special paradise.

Today, however, much of that paradise has been lost by the deterioration of our water quality and overall environment. Everyone talks about the need to protect our environment, but not enough is being done.

That is why we and so many of our friends and neighbors in the Keys are supportive of the proposal to crack down on derelict vessels by requiring all live-aboard boaters to move their boats every three months. The proposed HB 639 and SB 1086 bills are a long-time coming and should have been passed decades ago.

Since 2008, our county’s Marine Resources Division has removed 706 derelict vessels at a cost of $2.6 million, with 48 removed in 2019 alone, or about one per week. That is totally unacceptable, and something needs to be done asap.

I am sure none of the owners of those 706 vessels meant for them to become derelict and cause collateral damage to our water quality, mangroves, grassy seabeds, and even private property. Yet, they walked away scot-free leaving me and my fellow taxpayers footing the bill for their negligence.

Had this legislation been passed in 2008, we would be enjoying a much healthier and cleaner environment, not to mention our county having $2.6 million more in its coffers to serve all of its residents rather than cleanup after irresponsible derelict vessel owners.

This bill is fair and balanced, and the 90-day moving requirement does not apply to vessels in managed mooring fields. The problem is there are several unregulated and unlicensed mooring fields, including some in Islamorada, that are encouraged by businesses that allow free parking and 24/7 access to their dock. This may be good for their business, but it is bad for our environment, especially when a vessel is moored to mangroves.

There are roughly 75,000 people in Monroe County. The county’s Marine Resources Division reports that there are approximately 600 to 700 long-term anchored vessels in the Keys, including about 300 to 400 stored or abandoned vessels and about 300 live-aboard vessels. Assuming two persons per live-aboard vessel, they represent fewer than 1% of our population, yet the actions of the environmentally-insensitive ones potentially impact 100% of our population.

Passage of this critically needed legislation will not be enough unless there are sufficient funds provided to FWC and other county agencies to monitor and enforce these rules, starting with their immediate shutting down of unregulated and unlicensed mooring fields.

Kenneth Thomas, Ph.D.