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Beaches May Be Closed But Waters Expected To Be Busy For The Fourth

Nancy Klingener
Boat ramps are always busy in the Keys, especially on holiday weekends and this weekend should be no exception for the ramps that are open.

Beaches will be closed in South Florida for the Fourth of July weekend but people are still going to be on the water — on boats. From Palm Beach County to the Keys, law enforcement is gearing up to handle  crowds and to try enforcing social distancing, and other rules, on the water.

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Boat ramps are always busy in the Keys — especially on holiday weekends. Local and state officers are planning to be out on the water in force, even though a lot of the boat ramps will be closed over the holiday weekend.

"We're inundated with a lot of boats on the waterways, fishing, recreating, you name it, especially when the weather's nice, and that's what we're expecting for the July Fourth weekend," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officer Bobby Dube.

Credit Jenny Staletovich / WLRN
South Florida beaches, including Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, are closed for the July 4th weekend but many South Floridians are expected to head to the water anyway, on boats.

Marine patrol officers will be looking out for social distancing — boats should stay 50 feet apart and not raft up.

And they'll be watching for some of the danger that predates the coronavirus and will likely be around after the virus is gone — drunken boating. Operation Dry Waters starts Friday.

Miami-Dade County officers also expect the weekend crush to be brutal.

"We anticipate this as with any other busy holiday boarding weekend. We do anticipate that the ramps will close. They will be very busy early on," said Miami-Dade County Marine Patrol Lt. Juan Vellalba.

Vellalba said rules enacted when boat ramps reopened in March are still being enforced. That means no anchoring on sandbars — and social distancing and masks at the ramp.

"We have extra patrols set up this weekend to continue to enforce the mayor's emergency order related to sandbars," he said. "In addition to that, we'd like to remind the boating community that boats, when they're anchored, need to remain 50 feet apart at all times. Gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited."

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office put out a YouTube video in May with its boating rules, which still remain in place. 

That includes the 50-foot and no-rafting rules, said Palm Beach County Lt. Vince Spierto.

"And also, we've got to adhere to on kayaks and paddle boards, the six foot social distancing rule," he said.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez had vowed not to backtrack, but he said he’s facing an uptick in cases among younger people. Shutting beaches down is a way to fight that. He says he doesn’t want a "spike on top of a spike."

"We have seen spikes in previous holiday weekends," he told CNN this week. "We don't want to see the same thing happen. And we've seen spikes in the younger people, which are the ones more apt to go to the beach party or do all those things. So we're actually targeting those things that younger people will be doing and want to do it together as groups."

Before the beaches closed, Maria Garcia caught a beach day with her grandchildren at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. They came early, to avoid any crowds lured by sizzling temperatures that made this week the hottest on record in Miami. 

"I think it’s wonderful that they’re closing and I just think that they opened everything too early because the people think that the pandemic has just disappeared because everything is open and they're not keeping social distance," she said. "You don't do it for yourself. You do it for other people." 

In Broward County, spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said deputies will try to educate boaters before issuing violations. 

“If that fails, then they may give verbal warnings and then move into issuing notice-to-appear citations,” she said.

Broward's rules reflect restrictions in other counties, with limits on the number of passengers. Boaters are encouraged to wear face coverings and not tie-off with other boats unless social distancing rules can be followed, Coleman-Wright said.

“We want everyone to be safe and enjoy this upcoming holiday," she said. 

This is the first holiday weekend since the pandemic began that the Keys are open to visitors. FWC Capt. David Dipre said on a Monroe County Emergency Management update call this week that it's been hard to enforce coronavirus measures on or near the water, even before the holiday

"With boaters in the Upper Keys, the majority of which are out-of-towners on the weekends, there is almost no social distancing going on," he said. "And a lot of difficulties still talking to people, making recommendations about masks. There's no masks or anything like that."

What to know before you head out on the water:

In the Keys, many public boat ramps are closed, including Harry Harris Park in Tavernier.

The ramp at Founders Park is open to Islamorada residents and Founders Park cardholders only. The ramp at Indian Key Fills is closed.

Miami-Dade County boat ramps are open, but expect crowds. Some may close if they exceed new capacity limits set in response to COVID-19. Miami-Dade provides alerts about closings, but residents need to create a user account at https://accounts.miamidade.gov/myaccount/.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has also ordered all hotel and motel pools to close by 8 p.m. and not reopen until 6 a.m. No alcohol can be consumed or sold on pool decks and capacity is limited to 50.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
Natalia Clement is a freelance journalist and former summer intern for WLRN, South Florida’s public radio news outlet. She enjoys producing multimedia content that covers community news and current topics of interest.
Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
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