August 8, 2018

REEF.org photo
A 52-foot wooden boat sits grounded atop the shallow reef at Cannon Patch in protected waters of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Efforts to remove the deteriorating boat while limiting reef damage were ongoing earlier this week.

REEF.org photo A 52-foot wooden boat sits grounded atop the shallow reef at Cannon Patch in protected waters of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Efforts to remove the deteriorating boat while limiting reef damage were ongoing earlier this week.

KEY LARGO — Two weeks after running aground on a popular snorkeling reef in protected Key Largo waters, a 52-foot wooden boat remained stuck.

By last Friday, mariners reported the unidentified vessel was breaking apart in the shallow depths of the Cannon Patch site after its July 21 grounding.

Extent of the damage to the coral reef, as shallow as 4 feet in spots, was uncertain while marine agencies tried to find ways to move the boat while limiting damage to the underwater resources within John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

“A number of state and federal agencies are working on it,” said Rob Klepper, information coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Boats from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Islamorada station responded to the emergency call on July 21 and removed two people from the boat. On July 22, a fuel slick was reported by the Coast Guard.

Names of the people aboard the wooden boat had not been released at press time.

“Mitigation efforts are taking place, along with an active investigation,” Klepper said. “The FWC is taking this very seriously.”

Pennekamp staffers have “been visiting the site to collect debris from the vessel and will continue to do so,” Elyssa Finkelstein of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Friday. “We’re working closely with FWC to determine the best approach for removing the vessel.”

Fines for damaging protected resources at the Cannon Patch, which is marked by mooring buoys, could be added to mitigation and salvage costs. It was uncertain whether the boat operators carried any insurance.

“The 4- to 6-foot depth in many areas draws snorkelers looking to experience strands of elkhorn coral and large amounts of tropical fish,” describes the website for the Reef Roamer and Quicksilver snorkeling catamarans in Key Largo.

kwadlow@keysnews.com