Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys announced it would close beginning Monday in response to a flood of migrants arriving on its shores.
The park, located on the Western extreme of the Florida Keys, announced the closure on Monday. The National Park Service said in a statement that it was closed in order to respond to nearly 300 migrants who arrived on the island in recent days. The migrants mostly arrived from the communist island nation of Cuba by boat.
“On January 2 at 8 am, Dry Tortugas National Park will temporarily close to public access while law enforcement and medical personnel evaluate, provide care for and coordinate transport to Key West for approximately 300 migrants who arrived in the park over the past couple of days,” the National Park Service said in its statement.
“The closure, which is expected to last several days, is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff because of the resources and space needed to attend to the migrants. Concession-operated ferry and sea plane services are temporarily suspended.”
“Like elsewhere in the Florida Keys, the park has recently seen an increase in people arriving by boat from Cuba and landing on the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park,” the NPS added. “Park first responders provide food, water and basic medical attention until the Department of Homeland Security arrives and takes the lead. While the park is closed, vessels may seek safe harbor in the designated areas within the one nautical mile anchoring zone around Garden Key, including Bird Key Harbor. There will be no visitor services available while the closure is in effect and emergency services will be extremely limited. All closures will remain in place until further notice.”
Walter N. Slosar, the Chief Patrol Agent of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Miami Sector, tweeted that Border Patrol agents had encountered at least 200 migrants on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day alone, in more than a dozen encounters.
“During the past 24 hours, U.S. Border Patrol agents & LE partners responded to 5 migrant landings throughout the Florida Keys and encountered 88 Cuban migrants,” Slosar tweeted Saturday.
“New Year’s Day in Florida: Over 160 migrants have been encountered today in the #Florida Keys,” he added Sunday. “Border Patrol agents with support from federal, state, and local LE partners responded to 10 migrant landings since midnight.”
Rear Admiral Brendan C. McPherson, commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District & director of Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast, added in a separate statement on Twitter that the migrants would be removed and provided with food and water and basic first aid, before being transferred to the custody of Border Patrol for processing. “Irregular, illegal maritime migration is always dangerous and very often deadly. #DontTakeToTheSeas,” he said.
The park, about 100 acres in area, is a small archipelago about 70 miles from Key West. It is made up of the seven Dry Tortuga islands, and the incomplete naval fort and former prison, Fort Jefferson. Most of the park is water, and it is home to some of the best-preserved coral reefs in the Florida Keys. The Park is renowned for its abundant tropical marine life and birds.