The Backcountry Management Plan was developed following the dramatic increase in residential growth and tourism in the Florida Keys in the 1980s, which resulted in a rise in recreational and commercial use of the nearshore marine waters surrounding refuge islands and associated activities on the islands themselves. The growing popularity of shallow-draft vessels, particularly personal watercraft (also known as waverunners or jet skis), made previously inaccessible shallow water areas and tidal flats susceptible to adverse impacts caused by an increasing number of people in the backcountry. That led to an alarming rise in wildlife-human interactions, involving disruption of roosting, foraging, and nesting activities by birds and sea turtles for which the National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) were originally established to protect.
To curtail such impacts while also allowing traditional water-based activities such as fishing, boating, and diving, vessel exclusion zones were designated throughout Key West NWR and most of Great White Heron NWR where personal watercraft, airboats, water skiing, hovercraft, and aircraft landings are prohibited. Special buffer zones with idle speed, no motor, or no entry areas were also established near sensitive wildlife habitat. These zones are identified as Wildlife Management Areas.
For specific information on Wildlife Management Areas, visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Marine Zoning and Regulatory Review website.