Birds, boaters, nudists vie on Passage Key

Passage Key, Florida -- A five-acre piece of land off Anna Maria Island is causing a tug-of-war between the birds nesting on it, boaters and some nudists. It's a popular recreational area that is getting a bit crowded.

About a mile off the north end off Anna Maria Island sits what may appear to be a large sandbar.

"We're at Passage Key a National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay," said Stan Garner, law enforcement zone officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

MORE:Learn more about Passage Key

A re-emerging island once 67 acres large covered in mangroves had been washed away by hurricanes and underwater for eight years is coming back.

Garner says, "Back in early spring we noticed it came back up five acres in size you see behind me."

The key is popular once again with birds that have returned to nest.

"We have pelicans, royal terns, sandwich terns, oystercatchers," says Ivan Vicente, visitors services specialist with Fish and Wildlife.

The island is also popular with recreational boaters including nudists like Morris from Bradenton.

"It's very pretty out there like the Caribbean crystal clear water," says Morris.

But finding a way for the two to co-exist has been a bit of a problem according to the Fish and Wildlife.

Garner says, "The island is closed -- no way to recreate on the island without disturbing birds and wildlife species so island remains closed."

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Signs are posted but Morris says some visitors ignore them.

"The sign says no entry past this point -- walk up to that point walk on the island and around it," says Morris. He adds, "There needs to be more police presence."

USFWS says the rules are simple. "If your feet are on dry sand you're trespassing it's closed federal property," says Garner.

A trespassing ticket costs $125 and fines for disturbing a bird is $500, with an additional cost per bird.

"This is the most responsible way distance to enjoy the wildlife," says Vicente, as he walks around the island in three feet of water. "As long as you remain in shore not set foot on land not create a noise or disturbance."

As for boating and sunbathing nude Garner says, "We don't regulate nudity."

"Our jurisdiction is what happens on land," adds Vicente.

USFWS will be posting "beach closed" signs in coming weeks to make sure there are no misunderstanding of the rules.

Click here to learn more about Passage Key.


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