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.
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."