Let’s check in with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Scott Atwell, Communications and Outreach Manager for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s going on at the sanctuary. 

What does all the rain we’ve been having do to the sanctuary? 

Atwell said, “We were heating up about two months ahead of schedule where we should have been and then that rain came last week and it was very effective in the relief that it brought. We may have talked in the past about how tropical systems can bring that kind of relief to the temperatures. When Hurricane Ian blew past a couple of years ago, we actually were able to measure a seven degree drop in water temperature, which is extraordinary as that storm passed. I’ll tell you the rain that we had last week was kind of close to it, we had drops in the range from three to five degrees at various points across the Keys after all that rain. I’ll give you some examples. I work from the northern Keys to the southern Keys. Horseshoe Reef was measuring at 86 degrees on the seafloor, it dropped to 83. Sombrero Reef was at 89, which is if you have sustained at 89 degree temperatures on the seafloor, you’re gonna have bleaching of your coral, well the rain came through and dropped it to 86. Newfound Harbor in the Lower Keys was almost at 90 degrees, 89.6, but they got about 11 inches of rain there in the Marathon area and the water temperature dropped down to 84.9. Sand Key dropped just about three degrees from 87 to 84. So listen, we’re going to take all the help we can get because as I mentioned, things are moving more quickly than they normally do. So it’s going to change, we know that. It’s going to get hot again. But whatever relief we can get like this, we’re going to take it because the corals and the water temperature are going to need it.”

The sanctuary advisory board met yesterday in Marathon. 

Atwell said, “It was pretty significant. The council elected a new chair and a new vice chair and also welcomed five new members. The CEO of Marathon’s Aquarium Encounters Ben Daughtry was was elected as chair of the Council after serving the last four years as Vice Chair. Each of the seats on the Advisory Council are matched up with a particular user group and Ben sits in the conservation and environment seat and the gavel was passed to him by Marathon City Manager George Garrett who’s served as chair but for the past four years. George did a remarkable job. We thank him for his service and very glad that he’s going to remain on. He’s actually going to be sitting in a non voting seat as a representative of the city of Marathon. Then the Vice Chair election went to the Associate Vice President of Research for Mote Marine Laboratory Dr. Erin Muller. She sits on a research and monitoring seat and we welcome her as the new vice chair. At the same time, we welcomed these five new members. As I’ve said before, they represent a variety of user groups and the main responsibility is to serve as a liaison between the sanctuary and the community but also advising the superintendent. After all those preliminary things were done, they got down to the business of talking about the heat and the preparations that are going to be taking place as our practitioners who help plant coral anticipate that the water is going to continue to be hot. One of the things we’re going to do is sort of reprise something that was done last year, and that is open up some new nurseries in deeper water. We did this last year in Tavernier. Most of these corals that are grown in the water before they’re outplanted are in no deeper than 30 feet of water. Last year, we established these new deeper water nurseries in about 70 feet of water and it makes a big difference. You can drop a couple of degrees of temperature if they’re in that type of water. So we’re going to open up three of these this year on a temporary basis, 60 days with the chance of an additional 60 days. During that time, they will become no transit zones. So we can protect those coral trees, you see them as they’re connected to the sea floor, need to protect them from people who might be fishing and boats coming through. So we’ll have more on that in the coming weeks. We expect that to happen relatively soon. But that is one of the things that we’re doing to sort of plan and get ahead of what we know is going to be hot summer.”

Public help is needed in identifying bleached coral. 

Atwell said, “There’s a lot of ground to cover out there. We can’t be everywhere. So along with Mote Marine Laboratory, we are partnering with a program to take our citizen divers and ask them to help us identify where coral is bleaching. There’s a training for this, we just completed a week of training all up and down the Keys and we’re going to be doing it again in August in Islamorada, Key Largo and Marathon. So if there are divers who are listening and want to be part of that, we encourage them to go to the Mote Marine website at mote.org and they can find more information on when and where those trainings will take place in August.”

The Florida Keys have been named a hope spot.

Atwell said, “This is a pretty big deal. Earlier this month when the Mission Blue organization which was founded by Sylvia Earle, the legendary marine scientist, she won a TED Prize in 2009, and established this nonprofit organization called Mission Blue. Since then, they have been a couple of times a year, designating these new hope spots, which are ecologically unique areas of the ocean and designated them for special protections and emphasis I guess, is the way to put it. There are more than 160 of these around the world. Earlier this month, Mission Blue said that the Keys along the parts of Biscayne Bay and the 10,000 Islands are going to be included on that list. So what does it mean? So hope spots are supported by that Mission Blue organization through their communications, through expeditions and scientific advisory. These spots are selected through a nomination process and our colleagues from Florida International University made this particular nomination and therefore they have the lead on celebrating it and in the early fall, they plan to be back in the Keys with Sylvia Earle to celebrate the award at which time I’m sure we will learn more about her plans to elevate the ecological focus of the Florida Keys and I can tell you when you have Sylvia Earle in your corner, you have one of the world’s most recognized champions for igniting global public support.”

A buoy from the Keys ended up in Europe recently. 

Atwell said, “We have 600 of these mooring buoys, and another 300 marker buoys that we maintain up and down the Keys and Mother Nature sometimes sets them adrift and they get in the Gulf Stream and one of them turned up in Wales last week. People are very diligent over there in the UK and they contacted us, sent us pictures and this one gentleman said he thought it looked like something from Star Wars. It really caught his attention. Now he’s put it in his garden, he’s going to paint it and pay homage to Star Wars. It’s amazing how our Facebook friends really enjoy these stories and then the press picked up on it and the next thing you know, the story is going around the world.”