Marathon, Fla. -- The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) announced a new iteration of the Restoration Blueprint and accompanying management plan for the sanctuary on Tuesday. With mounting challenges facing the marine sanctuary, these new guidelines which could be finalized by 2023 create an opportunity to voice support for this critical ecosystem.
“From coral reefs to seagrass beds and sharks to manatees, the Florida Keys teems with life so magical it draws visitors from around the globe. Tragically, this abundance of ocean life is more at risk today than ever as climate change, coral disease and overuse threaten the health of habitats across the barrier reef,” says Dr. Jerry Lorenz, Audubon Florida’s State Research Director and 24-year FKNMS Advisory Council member, on behalf of the Florida Keys Restoration Partnership, “We are excited to review this proposed rule and work with the Sanctuary to ensure a bright future for Florida’s barrier reef.”
The new rule will contain potential regulatory changes including expansion of the sanctuary’s geographic boundary and other measures for marine zones within the sanctuary.
In August 2021, the Florida Keys Restoration Partnership, a coalition of local, state, and national organizations and individuals committed to the protection and restoration of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, called for the sanctuary to take three concrete steps to protect the health and biodiversity in the Florida Keys:
- Prevent propeller damage in the Keys’ shallow, sensitive habitats by slowing boats in shallow waters throughout the sanctuary.
- Protect important habitat connections from the shore to the deeper waters, including Boca Chica Key in the lower Keys, Carysfort Reef in the Upper Keys, and the Tortugas Corridor
- Ensure that we are protecting healthy, deep coral reefs by adding the coral gardens of Pulley Ridge to the Sanctuary boundaries.
This new plan is based on previous findings from sanctuary scientists. In 2011, they reported that habitats and ocean life in the continental United States’ only barrier reef were in fair to poor condition--a situation that has only worsened in recent years as hurricanes and coral disease have taken their toll on the marine ecosystem. The sanctuary, which is jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), has been undergoing a management plan review since 2019.
The FKNMS is an ecological gem and national treasure for all Americans. It protects almost 3,000 square miles of marine resources and is home to part of the third-largest barrier reef in the world, extensive seagrass meadows, mangrove forests and thousands of species of marine life. The FKNMS creates ecosystem connectivity with Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas National Parks and other protected areas, enhancing biodiversity and marine wildlife habitat along the Florida reef tract. It is also an important economic driver in the Florida Keys, supporting about 43,000 jobs and contributing an estimated $4.4 billion annually to Florida’s economy. But in the last 25 years, coral cover has declined by half; thousands of acres of seagrass have been damaged by propeller scars and poor water quality; and spawning aggregations for multiple fish species are diminished or have disappeared.
Members of the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed plans through public meetings and online at regulation.gov until October 21, 2022.
The Florida Keys Restoration Partnership (Partnership) is a Coalition of local, state, and national organizations and individuals committed to the protection and restoration of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), recognize it as a national treasure, and support stronger safeguards for Keys’ resources. The Partnership includes representatives of environmental and marine conservation organizations, recreational fishing groups, the diving community, faith-based organizations, community-organizers, and unaffiliated members of the public. The Partnership works to support measures to protect threatened wildlife and sensitive habitat, reduce stressors on natural resources, restore degraded areas, and strengthen investments in activities to improve the long-term health of the Sanctuary.
For more than a century Audubon has encouraged people to take care of the places that make Florida special. Using science to guide our priorities and birdlife to measure ecosystem health, Audubon advocates for the protection of land, water, and wildlife. Audubon is Florida’s most influential conservation organization and conducts extensive work to protect the Everglades and coastal bird habitats. We manage sanctuaries covering thousands of acres along with two popular nature centers. Audubon promotes stewardship and appreciation of public land and water so people experience and cherish Florida’s natural beauty and wildlife.
Members of the Florida Keys Restoration Partnership include:
- Audubon Florida
- Captains for Clean Water
- Environment America
- Environment Florida
- Florida Bay Forever
- Florida Free-Divers
- Inland Ocean Coalition
- Florida Keys Last Stand
- Lionfish University
- Marine Conservation Institute
- National Ocean Protection Coalition
- National Parks Conservation Association
- National Wildlife Federation
- Ocean Conservancy
- Sierra Club
- Surfrider Foundation
- The Nature Conservancy
- Private Citizens