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Environmental Citations Issued For Boat Captain During Environmental Research Cruise

FWC officers wrote in a report that they saw the Ultimate Getaway anchored in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, where no anchoring is allowed.

The captain of a charter boat carrying government scientists on an environmental research cruise near the Keys has been cited for violating environmental regulations.

The Ultimate Getaway is a 100-foot charter boat that takes people to the remote Tortugas, west of Key West, for diving and spearfishing trips.

This month, it was chartered by the federal government for the Coral Reef Monitoring Program research cruise, which surveys reef and fish in Florida every other year.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were on board, according to an FWC incident report.

On July 13, FWC officers were patrolling the Tortugas North Ecological Reserve. That area is just outside Dry Tortugas National Park and is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. No fishing or anchoring is allowed in the reserve.

The FWC patrol saw the Ultimate Getaway at anchor inside the reserve. When they came alongside, they saw fishing poles and gear on the vessel's stern, according to the FWC report.

Once they boarded the vessel, they found one red snapper and one red grouper on ice.

Credit FWC
FWC officers wrote that they saw fishing gear on the deck of the Ultimate Getaway and found one red grouper and one yellowtail snapper on ice. It is illegal to fish, or possess fish, in the ecological reserve.

According to the report, the vessel's captain, John Coleman III, 37, of Cape Coral, told the officers he thought they were outside the reserve. They were actually inside the reserve by almost 5 nautical miles from the eastern boundary line and almost 2 nautical miles from the southern boundary line.

While the officers were documenting the violation, Coleman started the boat's engine and began retrieving the anchor.

"[W]e saw the bow of the M/V 'Ultimate Getaway' dip in the water as the anchor and line became strained under tension, indicating the anchor had become attached to something affixed to the bottom and would not come free," the report states. "After maneuvering the vessel, the anchor finally became free and was retrieved on the bow."

Coleman was cited on two counts by the FWC, for anchoring and fishing in the reserve. None of the scientists were cited.

A NOAA spokesman provided a statement that read: "We are working with our partners to assess any potential injuries to sanctuary resources and will proceed with emergency stabilization and restoration if needed."

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.