Lobster Mini Season in the Sanctuary

As people prepare to catch bugs this upcoming lobster mini-season, here is a reminder to behave responsibly.

  • Every year more than 700,000 divers and snorkelers take to the water to discover the wonder and beauty of the Keys’ coral reefs and maritime heritage sites. A great many of those come to the Keys for the two-day lobster sports seasons – otherwise known as mini-season.
  • With smart choices, you can lower your impact on sensitive coral reefs and other natural resources.
  • First, learn the state lobster harvest regulations. Get your license and tags, abide by the limit (6/day), and always measure the carapace to make sure the lobster is big enough (3 inches). Measure in the water to reduce stress on the animal. And never, ever take a lobster that has eggs attached. All recreationally harvested lobster must be brought to the dock whole – no tail wringing.
  • Remember diving rules – always display a diver down flag that can be seen from all angles. And you must slow down – it is illegal to operate a vessel at more than 4 knots/no wake within 100 years of a diver down flag.
  • Absolutely no harming of the coral. Sanctuary regulations say “Moving, removing, taking, injuring, touching, breaking, cutting or possessing coral or live rock” is prohibited. Do not go out and overturn rocks to reach a spiny lobster.
  • Anchoring is also not allowed on coral or seagrass. Look for sand. And you must use a mooring buoy when available. You can even tie up to a boat that is on a mooring buoy.
  • Diving for lobster can be hazardous. Lobster mini-season sees an average of two fatalities each year with several more people injured.
  • Maintain a comfortable distance from the reef and avoid shallow areas. Carefully select entry and exit points to avoid reef areas.
  • Never stand or rest on corals. If you need to rest or adjust equipment, lie on your back or float in a seated position. If you need to stand to adjust equipment, return to the boat.
  • Maintaining buoyancy is key. It takes practice and proper weight. Keep your feet slightly elevated above your head. Novice snorkelers can use a vest to stay afloat. Mastering buoyancy control and streamlining your equipment will help minimize the risk of entanglement or accidental disturbance of the bottom, which can harm fragile corals and historical artifacts. Even the slightest damage can permanently alter an entire ecosystem or historical shipwreck site.
  • Before diving in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, check the rules to know where you can dive. And always tie up to a mooring buoy. Never anchor on coral, seagrass, or a shipwreck. The sanctuary’s buoy team was hard at work last week making sure the mooring buoys at Looe Key are ready for this weekend’s Underwater Music Festival.
  • With the prevalence of stony coral tissue loss disease, it’s also imperative that divers and snorkelers take the time to properly decontaminate their gear to prevent spreading the disease further.
  • Remove debris and sediment following each dive.
  • It’s advised that between dives, gear that may have come into contact with diseased coral be sanitized with a bleach solution. Other gear should be washed in fresh water with antibacterial soap.
  • Use quaternary ammonium solution like Lysol, RelyOn or Virkon to decontaminate gear after you return to short.
  • And properly dispose of the disinfectant solutions and rinse water in a sink, tub or shower. Never pour it into the ocean or a storm drain.
  • Detailed decontamination protocols are on the sanctuary’s coral disease page: floridakeys.noaa.gov/coral-disease/.
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