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Public may comment on proposed changes to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Proposal addresses ongoing, emerging challenges to regional conditions
August 20, 2019 Today, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries released a draft proposal recommending a range of potential changes to existing boundaries, regulations, and marine zones in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, to better address long-term declines to the region’s marine resources as well as ongoing and emerging threats due to changing ocean conditions.
Coral reefs like this one in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary buffer shorelines from wave action, storms, and erosion, and protect wetlands and harbors.

The proposal, known as the Restoration Blueprint, provides NOAA’s perspective on how the sanctuary can assist in protecting and restoring important marine resources in the Florida Keys. These actions include proposals to both restore important reefs and seagrass beds and to modify existing sanctuary regulations regarding the use of certain areas. 

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the only coral barrier reef in the continental United States, a marine ecosystem that annually attracts nearly five million visitors who collectively contribute to the $4.7 billion economy through marine-related activities in the sanctuary, including fishing, snorkeling, diving, wildlife viewing, and boating. The sanctuary also protects the habitat of key commercial fishing species, including shrimp, spiny lobster, stone crab, and fish such as Spanish mackerel. Commercial fishing in the sanctuary accounts for a quarter of the state’s commercial fishing revenue. 

The Restoration Blueprint seeks to protect the fragile ecosystems of Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary, such as this reef in the Upper Keys with a red grouper and a boulder star coral.
The Restoration Blueprint seeks to protect the fragile ecosystems of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, such as this reef in the Upper Keys with a red grouper and a boulder star coral. (NOAA/Bill Goodwin)

The proposed restoration plan takes into account more than 20 years of science, management achievements, technical experience and local community involvement. It also recognizes that new or expanded protection strategies may be necessary to restore habitats degraded from events such as Hurricane Irma, coral bleaching and coral disease. 

This is the first comprehensive review and update of the sanctuary’s boundaries, regulations, and marine zones since 1997. The first revision to the original sanctuary management plan and regulations was the modification to the sanctuary's boundaries that created the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in 2001, while the 2007 management plan revision streamlined and updated the management action plans, but did not involve changes to the regulations. 

NOAA will accept public comment on the proposals through January 31. The public comment period will span two sanctuary advisory council meetings and will include opportunities for engagement, including public meetings.

Public Meeting Schedule: 
Five informational sessions will be held for the public to learn more about the proposals and provide input. Written comments will be accepted at the sessions in Key West, Marathon, and Tavernier, while the sessions in the Miami area (Coral Gables) and Fort Myers will include additional opportunities for oral public comments. Sessions start at 6 p.m. Members of the public may also provide verbal comments on the proposals during the advisory council meetings in October and December in the Keys. Click here to see a complete schedule.

Key West
Mon., Sept. 23
Key West High School
2100 Flagler Avenue

Marathon
Mon., Sept. 30
Marathon Middle High School
350 Sombrero Beach Road

Tavernier
Mon., Oct. 7 
Coral Shores High School
89901 Old Highway

Coral Gables
Mon., Oct. 28
University of Miami Newman Alumni Center
6200 San Amaro Drive

Fort Myers
Mon., Nov. 4
Holiday Inn Airport at Town Center
9931 Interstate Commerce Drive

NOAA is accepting public comments online and by mail. Comments may be submitted online at www.regulations.gov (search docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0094) or by mailing comments to:

Sarah Fangman
Sanctuary Superintendent
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
33 E. Quay Rd.
Key West, FL 33040

Contact
Gena Parsons, 305-304-0179
Beth Dieveney, 305-809-4710