Orange County passes ordinance restricting use of waters near Bird Island

Following concerns over swimmers and wildlife, Orange County voted to regulate waters

Orange County commissioners approved an ordinance restricting the use of waters surrounding Bird Island following concerns over swimmers, boaters and wildlife.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A spokesperson for Orange County said the board voted to pass a new ordinance for Bird Island.

Members of law enforcement and government agencies told the commission that issues near the island on Lake Butler have been increasing. This includes concerns over alcohol consumption, swimmers near boats and a reduced wildlife presence.

The island was deeded from the state to the Audubon Society several years ago to be used as a wildlife sanctuary.

A woman who has lived near the island for several years told the board she’s concerned for the birds on the island.

“Now we cannot find a single Blue Heron nest. We also no longer take our own boat out on the weekend or holidays after 10 a.m. when the boats descend on Bird Island and the Jet Skis begin to storm around and race around the island,” the resident said.

Several deaths and accidents have occurred nearby, including a swimmer killed after coming into contact with a boat propeller. Another was injured when their Jet Ski collided with another boat.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said boat traffic near the island has significantly increased.

The new ordinance will prohibit boats from entering designated swim areas and puts limits on where alcohol can be consumed.

Windermere Police said on any given day, they have about two officers to patrol the area, which can attract more than 50 vessels.

A representative from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office also said the agency believes the changes are necessary to keep people safe.

“Our position at the sheriff’s office is that there are multiple issues on the island. This would just be the first step. For us to continue to take action out there, we need the need the tools to actually do that. Right now, we don’t have those tools,” the representative said.

Several residents opposed the ordinance, citing how the lake belongs to everyone.

Orange County said during the meeting that the passage of the ordinance will allow the county to apply for a “restricted swimming and vessel zone” with Florida Fish and Wildlife, which is expected to take place in July.

About the Author:

Troy graduated from California State University Northridge with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication. He has reported on Mexican drug cartel violence on the El Paso/ Juarez border, nuclear testing facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory and severe Winter weather in Michigan.