SUN PHOTO/TROY MORGAN
The south side of Leffis Key is a popular
boat anchorage and snorkeling and dive spot. Divers say they have seen
toilet paper in the water there, and law enforcement officers will be
inspecting boats for marine sanitation devices.
BRADENTON BEACH – Divers who say they saw toilet paper draped on coral growing on an underwater ledge off Leffis Key suspect that boats are dumping sewage there.
"We’re calling it ‘TP reef,’ " said one of the divers, who spotted the trash while diving recently with his son in a training class with Aqua Pros Divers of Cortez.
The divers, who asked to remain anonymous, said the water quality was poor on their last two dives. Water quality around the man-made preserve has been so good in recent years that bay scallops have been seen there; scallops are one of the first species to die in contaminated water.
"In these cases, it’s usually a liveaboard or somebody dumping before they get to the boat ramp," said Capt. Jim Ramer, of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The ledge, which is near a public boat ramp, lies between the Intracoastal Waterway and a seagrass bed that borders the south side of Leffis Key. The area is a popular spot for boats to anchor, said Mike Hayes, of Aqua Pros Divers.
"It’s getting crowded over there," he said.
"Those are navigable waters, so as long as boaters follow the proper anchoring procedure, they can legally anchor there," Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said.
Officials can’t prosecute a litter violation without someone actually seeing a boater dumping something into the water, he said. However, he added, if a boat does not have the required Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) on board, it is a violation of U.S. Coast Guard boating laws, and the city has legal jurisdiction to enforce city, county, state and federal laws in waters 500 feet into the water from city boundaries.
Law enforcement officials were in the process of organizing a three-agency inspection team consisting of the Bradenton Beach Police Department, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Tampa when the divers reported the problem to The Sun last week, said Terry Noll with FWC.
"We will work together to inspect boats for valves that close and lock," he said, referring to the following Coast Guard regulations:
"All recreational boats with installed toilet facilities must have an operable marine sanitation device (MSD) on board. Vessels 65 feet and under may use a Type I, II or III MSD. Vessels over 65 feet must install a Type II or III MSD. All installed MSDs must be Coast Guard certified. When operating a vessel on a body of water where the discharge of treated or untreated sewage is prohibited the operator must secure the device in a manner which prevents any discharge. Some acceptable methods are: padlocking overboard discharge valves in the closed position, using non-releasable wire ties to hold overboard discharge valves in the closed position, closing overboard discharge valves and removing the handle, locking the door with padlock or keylock to the space enclosing the toilets."