A montage of law enforcement boats.
Enforcement of sanctuary regulations is achieved through inter-agency cooperation. Photos: NOAA Office of Law Enforcement.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has put special rules in place to protect the unique marine environment of the Florida Keys. Making sure that residents and visitors are aware of and follow those rules is the task of federal and state enforcement agencies. Protection of the sanctuary is a multi-agency effort led by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, in partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard.

While patrolling sanctuary waters, enforcement officers board and inspect boats; hand out brochures and maps; and make sure divers, boaters, and fishermen know, understand, and follow sanctuary regulations. On-water education can be very effective in preventing future violations.

Officers are often the first responders to emergencies like vessel groundings, oil spills, and injured manatees or sea turtles while on patrol. While on the water, if you have any questions about sanctuary rules, fishing regulations, or even boater safety, ask an officer for their local expertise.

Penalty Schedules

If you violate a National Marine Sanctuaries Act regulation or other NOAA regulation, there are set penalties which vary depending on the rule you break. NOAA's Office of General Counsel Enforcement Section prosecutes civil penalty cases, permit sanctions, and administrative forfeitures in conjunction with NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement.

National Marine Sanctuaries Act Civil Penalty Schedule (pdf, 465 Kb)

These guidelines make sure that fines fit the violation, and that they are consistent across the country. Penalties for violating the National Marine Sanctuaries Act range from a written warning, to a maximum of $210,161.

National Marine Sanctuary Act Summary Settlement Schedule (pdf, 52 Kb)

In some cases if you violate a regulation, you may have the opportunity to pay a reduced fine.

Southeast Region Summary Settlement Schedule (pdf, 52 Kb)

You may have an opportunity to pay a reduced fine for these violations as well.

Report Violations, Incidents, or Observations

Having extra eyes on the water can help law enforcement, aid in the rescue of distressed people or wildlife, and even support research on rare and unusual marine events. It is always best when the individual witnessing an incident makes the phone call directly, so that the agency receiving the report can get first hand answers to any follow-up questions they may have.

Note: Boaters in distress should call the U.S. Coast Guard for help on VHF Channel 16.