Preserving a Key Boating Destination
The 4 million annual visitors to the Florida Keys could test Billy Causey’s patience. The majority of them are towing boats, or renting them, to play on one of the most sensitive marine ecosystems in North America. So what does Causey, the man who helped establish the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary 20 years ago, do? He joins them.
“None of us wants to boat or dive in a broken-up, disassembled, dirty environment,” says Causey, 66, who explores the 2,896-square-mile sanctuary in a 22-foot Mako, circa 1989, for recreation. “I’m not sure what things would look like if changes hadn’t been made.”
In the summer of 1990, Causey saw that the fire coral, which made the Keys the most heavily dived area in the world, was turning stark white. The numbers of sponges and anemones were dropping. It wasn’t just the environment that was taking it on the chin. So were recreational boats. More than 600 would ground that year, damaging seagrass and reefs with even the slightest impact.
“The sanctuary isn’t to punish boaters for a mishap, or to tell them where to go,” Causey says, “but to make it safer and easier to enjoy these resources, and make sure they’re here in the future.”
Still, many a crooked eye has been directed at causey from boaters suspicious of water regulations.
“A few years ago I went out with him to look at some areas where they proposed changes,” says Steve Leopold, president of the Islamorada Charter Boat Association. “I was a little skeptical about what he might want to do, but there was obvious abuse out there. Instead of making a snap decision on his own, he asked my thoughts. We came up with some ideas right there on the water. That’s far better than having decisions driven by lobbyists and environmental groups who don’t know the area. Billy’s the real deal.”
So when swarms of visiting boaters are avoiding seagrass beds because of a vastly improved marker system, and tying up to mooring balls a safe distance from coral heads, it’s likely that Billy Causey is out there with them. — R.S.