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As we were drowning in claims about the federal government shutdown, this one popped up on our shores Monday morning: Obama has closed down the ocean as part of the shutdown.
This brought to mind an image of federal agents tossing frolicking children out of the sea and soldiers marching on the beaches, barricading the bikini-clad set from taking a dip.
We found numerous ocean shutdown claims on Twitter: "Obama shuts down Atlantic ocean! Who knew the fed’s owned the ocean?" and "Obama and Dems can’t even close borders but are trying to close the ocean!" and "if Obama can shut down the ocean why didn’t he shut down the hurricanes and floods?"
We fished out this one to fact-check: "It is official. Obama has jumped the shark and ordered the ocean closed!"
We dove in to search for answers. Has Obama shut down the ocean as part of the federal government shutdown? The key to the answer was close to home for PolitiFact Florida: the Florida Keys.
The Florida Bay
Many of the ocean shutdown tweets linked to an Oct. 5 article on the conservative website Breitbart, which included this headline: "Feds try to close the ocean because of shutdown." It featured a photo of President Barack Obama swimming through ocean waves.
The article explained that the closure related to the Florida Bay and linked to a Miami Herald article. The Herald pulled information from the Florida Keys Keynoter, which stated that boat charter guides received a message from the National Park Service banning them from taking customers to fish in Florida Bay, which is within the boundaries of the Everglades National Park.
More than 1,100 square miles of prime fishing, between the southern tip of the mainland and the Keys, would be off limits until further notice, according to Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks.
We tracked down the message that commercial use permit holders for Everglades National park received:
"Effective at 6 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2013, both Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks will be closed. While our law enforcement rangers will remain on duty, all other administrative activities and visitor services will be discontinued until the shutdown has been lifted. If you have a trip planned for Oct. 1, you must conclude your business within the park by 6 p.m. After today, you may not offer any services within the park's boundaries until further notice. We regret the burden that this will place on your livelihood. We will notify you when the park is reopened."
Kimball confirmed to PolitiFact Florida that the Florida Bay, which encompasses about a half-million acres, is closed due to the shutdown. However, there are exceptions, including transit through the park.
"You can’t anchor, you can’t fish," Kimball said. "It has to be for transportation purposes."
Also, the feds will allow access in emergencies, such as seeking shelter from a storm, and they granted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission access to monitor algae blooms.
"Just like the Grand Canyon is closed during shutdown -- it's federal property -- so is the Florida Bay under the Everglades National Park," said Jennifer George-Nichol, who works for U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, who represents the Keys.
The national park closure does not mean that the entire ocean -- whether in the Keys, the rest of Florida or elsewhere -- is shut down. There are still spots in the Keys where tourists can go fishing or jump in for a swim.
For example, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which offers glass bottom boat rides and snorkel excursions, isn’t limited by the federal shutdown.
"At this time, nothing in the state park is affected," said Nathan Frier, assistant manager for Coral Reef Park Company, a concessionaire inside the park. "We do have a lot of calls to see if we are open or not."
At Barefoot Billy’s in Key West, boat trips to the Dry Tortugas are canceled but other ocean activities including parasailing, boating and jet skiing remain open.
"We have numerous local and state parks and beaches, none of which are impacted," said Lisa Tennyson, director of legislative affairs for Monroe County.
Enforcing the shutdown in Florida Bay
We wondered how seriously the shutdown in Florida Bay will be enforced. Breitbart speculated that the government "will probably use more personnel and spend more resources to attempt to close the ocean, than it would in its normal course of business."
The National Parks Service contingency plan states activities at parks and facilities will be suspended "except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."
The majority of employees at Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas have been furloughed.
Rangers have been notifying people that the park is closed and asked them to leave and generally have had good compliance, Kimball said. When we interviewed Kimball mid-afternoon Oct. 7, no one had been issued a written warning or violation.
Claims about the federal government shutdown include this one circulating on Twitter: "Obama has jumped the shark and ordered the ocean closed!"
The tweet linked to an article in Breitbart that explains that the shutdown means that the Dry Tortugas and the Florida Bay are closed as a result of the shutdown. That means that 1,100 square miles of prime fishing is off limits -- a blow to fishing charter companies and others that benefit from that access. Biscayne National Park is also off limits.
But it’s an exaggeration to state that Obama has tried to shut down the entire ocean -- or even to suggest that he has shuttered the Atlantic Ocean or all of the waters in the Keys. Tourists and locals can continue to fish, swim and play in the ocean, even in the Keys.
We throw a big ol’ bucket of ocean water from the Keys on this claim and rate this claim False.
National Parks Service, Contingency Plan, Fiscal year 2014
National Parks Service, Message to Commercial Use Authorized permit holders about shutdown in Everglades and Dry Tortugas, Oct. 1, 2013
Breitbart, "Feds try to close ocean because of shutdown," Oct. 5, 2013
Twitter, Tweet by @islandrichards, Oct. 5, 2013
Twitter, Tweet by @rosethistleart, Oct. 6, 2013
Twitter, Tweet by @45ACP, Oct. 7, 2013
Twitter, Tweet by @mikanydynorthern, Oct. 6, 2013
Twitter, Tweet by @michaelaleach, Oct. 5, 2013
National Review, "Shutdown simulacrum," Oct. 4, 2013
Miami Herald, "Shutdown Day 3: Food distributor stalled, charter boat captains docked," Oct. 3, 2013
KeysNet, "Feds shutdown shuts down Keys guides," Oct. 2, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle, "Which parks in the Bay Area are open and closed?" Oct. 5, 2013
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Website, Accessed Oct. 7, 2013
Barefoot Billy’s, Website, Accessed Oct. 7, 2013
PolitiFact, "Top claims about the federal government shutdown," Oct. 4, 2013
Interview, Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas, Oct. 7, 2013
Interview, Jennifer George-Nichol, Monroe County director for U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, Oct. 7, 2013
Interview, Lisa Tennyson, director of legislative affairs for Monroe County, Oct. 7, 2013
Interview, Nathan Frier, assistant manager for Coral Reef Park Company, Oct. 7, 2013
Interview, Siorella Bravl, call operator, Barefoot Billy’s, Oct. 7, 2013
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