KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — A U.S. national park comprising a cluster of islands in the Florida Keys was closed Monday after 300 migrants made landings there over the weekend. Separately, 160 migrants arrived by boats in other parts of the archipelago, officials said.
Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) west of Key West, was closed so that law enforcement and medical personnel could evaluate the migrants before moving them to Key West, the park tweeted.
“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," park officials said in their statement.
The national park is at the southern tip of the continental U.S. and attracts scuba divers and snorkelers for its coral reefs, nesting sea turtles, tropical fish and shipwrecks.
“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 National Park Service said in a news release.
Over the weekend, 160 other migrants landed in the Middle and Upper Keys, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, whose jurisdiction encompasses the Florida Keys.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a tweet that at least 88 migrants were from Cuba. U.S. Border Patrol and Coast Guard crews patrolling South Florida and the Keys have been experiencing the largest escalation of migrations by boat in nearly a decade, with hundreds of interceptions in recent months, mostly of people from Cuba and Haiti.
In a news release, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay criticized the federal response to the uptick in migrant arrivals, saying they were stretching local resources. The sheriff’s office was told by the U.S. Border Patrol that the federal response to some of the migrant landings may have to wait a day, the news release said.
“This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable," Ramsay said.