Natural disasters such as wildfires and massive floods have forced some U.S. national parks to close for up to weeks at a time in recent months. But the effects of climate change aren't the only force driving park closures. The latest shutdown is in response to an overwhelming number of migrants coming from Cuba. The Florida Keys' Dry Tortugas National Park is closing for several days to deal with some 300 migrants who arrived on New Year's weekend.
A group of people arrive close to shore in Marathon in the Florida Keys on a Cuban migrant boat Wednesday. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection AMO crew intercepted them before they could reach land. Video by Alan Heyman, who was fishing on a charter boat when the vessel passed. pic.twitter.com/aNx3zTGGvt— David Goodhue (@DavidGoodhue) December 30, 2022
The park, which is about 70 miles west of Key West, covers 100 square miles, is made up of seven small islands, and can only be accessed by seaplane or boat. Dry Tortugas National Park has "seen an increase in people arriving by boat from Cuba and landing on the islands," a statement released by the park said. The park's closure allows park officials to bring in the Coast Guard, law enforcement, and medical personnel to assist with arranging transport and providing food, water, and medical attention to the migrants.
The influx is part of a massive migration — sparked by Cuba's declining economy — that is the country's biggest since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, bringing Fidel Castro to power. Local law enforcement reported about 500 migrants arrived in the Florida Keys during New Year's weekend, referring to the surge as a "crisis."
Migrants can expect to have their basic needs met and will then be transferred to federal law enforcement agents in the Keys, said Rear Adm. Brendan C. McPherson, commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District and director of Homeland Security Task Force, in a statement. “From there, they will be transported for processing by regional U.S. Border Patrol stations to determine their legal status to remain in the United States or be processed for removal and repatriation to their country of origin.”
Dry Tortugas National Park hasn't set an official end date for the closure, though it said it expects the shutdown to remain in place for at least several days.