Working on the Water: Two local organizations help keep it safeMar 09, 2021 08:50PM ● By ANN MARIE O’PHELAN
Southwest Florida waters are excellent to fish in, fun to swim in and perfect to relax by—and thanks to local law enforcement agencies, they are also safer.
Two of the many organizations that work toward this goal are the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement; and the Lee County Marine Unit, part of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO).
FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement
FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement is responsible for protecting Florida’s natural resources—fish, wildlife and the environment—and ensuring a safe atmosphere for residents and visitors.
Jeffrey Goggin, an FWC officer for just over 11 years, coordinates and conducts derelict vessel investigations from Manatee County to Lee County. “In 2019-2020, I oversaw the removal of 81 derelict vessels,” explains Goggin. He also mentors FWC officers in his jurisdiction on the process and works with many sheriff’s offices, police departments, county governments and navigational districts to coordinate the investigation and removal of derelict vessels.
One recent example of Goggin’s work was a request last fall from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office to help find two missing fishermen whose 14-foot boat had broken down, leaving them to drift across Charlotte Harbor. Based on witness information, Goggin and a fellow FWC officer were able to locate the missing fishermen on an island, which they had waded to after their boat sank. They started a fire to signal for help and stay warm, explains Goggin. They were brought to shore for medical evaluation and then returned to locate the sunken boat.
LCSO Marine Unit
The LCSO Marine Unit coordinates investigations, rescues and patrols. “Our number one priority is boating safety/search and rescue. I want to make sure that all of our fellow boaters make it home safely,” says Marine Unit Lieutenant Chris Nyce.
The unit conducts hundreds of boating inspections every year and is always ready to assist boaters in distress. “We are on the water in good weather and the worst weather—ready to answer the call,” adds Nyce.
During the cooler months, manatees move up the Caloosahatchee River to find warmer water. Manatee speed zones have been put into place to protect the animals from boat and propeller collisions. “With the changes in speed zones as of November 15, 2020, we have to educate the boaters that may not be paying attention to the signage,” says Nyce. This is also the time of year when tourists arrive, many of whom have no or little boating experience. “They tend to get in a little trouble with our shallow water and unpredictable weather,” adds Nyce.
The Marine Unit works with several agencies to ensure boating safety and living marine resource management. The agencies include the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Fort Myers Beach, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Lee County Department of Natural Resources. The unit also works closely with the Cape Coral, Sanibel and Fort Myers marine units, as well as federal partners such as Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol and the U.S. Secret Service. Lee County also has the Marine Emergency Response Team (MERT), comprised of all the law enforcement agencies and fire departments equipped with vessels that can be activated for water emergencies. A Marine Law Enforcement Task Force meets monthly.
“My favorite part of the job is that it’s never the same every day. There is always something that arises that is unique and requires us to think outside the box,” says Nyce, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 19 years and in the marine unit for 14 years.
“Overall, the boaters on our waters are happy to see us. I think it gives them peace of mind knowing that we are always on the water in case there is trouble,” says Nyce.
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3900 Drane Field Road,
Lakeland, FL 33811-1207
5828 Cape Harbour Drive #205,
Cape Coral, FL 33914
Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.