New Rule Prohibits Vessel Sewage Discharge into Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Waters

Nov. 29, 2010

A new NOAA rule will prohibit boaters from discharging or depositing sewage into all waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The rule, which takes effect on December 27, also requires that vessel marine sanitation devices are secured to prevent discharges within sanctuary boundaries.

Acceptable methods of securing marine sanitation devices include, but are not limited to, all methods that have been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Several private, local, state and federal entities provide or support numerous pump-out stations throughout the region to assist boat operators in complying with this rule.

“This rule is another important step in restoring the water quality of the Florida Keys,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “Combined with other strategies such as increased pump-out facility availability and ongoing progress in advanced wastewater treatment, this new rule brings us closer to reversing the trends of declining water quality associated with human sources of pollution.”

pump out station

Pump-out stations such as this one are located throughout the Keys to help boaters comply with the marine sanitation device rule.

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Vessel sewage discharge has been prohibited in state waters of the sanctuary since its designation as a No Discharge Zone by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002. Under the new rule, both state and federal sanctuary waters now will be protected from potentially harmful vessel sewage discharge.

Current marine sanitation treatment devices do not kill all viruses found in wastewater, nor do they remove nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. This new rule prohibiting discharges and requiring the devices to be secured will help prevent these pollutants from entering the sanctuary. Excessive amounts of nutrients can harm coral reef ecosystems by degrading water quality and stimulating the rapid growth of aquatic plants and algae, which in turn smother and kill live coral.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries received more than 1,400 written comments during a 90-day comment period for the proposed rule, which was published in the Federal Register on Nov. 16, 2009.

Established in 1990, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of important marine habitat, including maritime heritage resources, as well as coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary.

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