The National Marine Sanctuary could be seeing some big changes and they need to hear from YOU

July 13 – The restoration blueprint has been released from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and citizen input is needed to continue the process.

Superintendent Sarah Fangman of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the restoration.

A Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting was held yesterday where the restoration blueprint was unveiled.

Fangman said, “Anybody who cares about our environment should care about what we’re asking your input on and that is our restoration blueprint.”

The blueprint is actually two things – one is a strategic plan that describes what the sanctuary staff and team partners are going to be doing to address the challenges in the marine environment.

The second part is a draft rule.

Fangman said, “It’s a big deal. We are proposing potentially to change the boundary of the sanctuary. We are proposing new regulations that would apply in the entire sanctuary and then we are proposing changes to the zoning scheme that we have.”

There is a lot to try to digest and understand. The public comment phase will be kept open into October.

Fangman said, “We are providing lots of information on our website so people can get into that, check it out and see what’s being proposed so that their voice can be heard when it comes to the future of these resources.”

The boundaries are potentially going to be expanded by 1,000 square miles.

The maps can be found on the website and visitors can compare the current zoning and proposed zoning.

Fangman said, “It’s a lot, but we have really good tools on our website to help your listeners check it out. They’ve got their favorite place they love to go, go on our map, find that spot, zoom in on it and see what’s being proposed, if anything. Maybe there’s nothing. Maybe there’s changes. Maybe it stayed the same, but there’s a lot to get into.”

The last condition report was released in 2011. It was a report card, a snapshot on the conditions of the resources in the Florida Keys. There were 17 specific questions asked about the health and conditions, the status and the trends of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary environment.

In all but three of them, the results were either fair or poor.

“Which is not good enough,” Fangman said. “We have had a lot of continuing events in the Florida Keys. Things like Hurricane Irma. Things like stony coral tissue loss disease. So the resources have been continuing to get pressures, different types of threats. Now is the time for us to act, for us to do something to try to help these resources be more resilient and have a better future. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

The Sanctuary was established in 1990 and has seen a lot of changes.

Fangman said, “I think that in general, our marine environment is struggling. It’s under stress. We’ve got water quality issues. We’ve got temperature stress. We have more and more people that are coming down here and enjoying these resources, which is wonderful, but we can have an impact even if we’re trying not to.”

Regulations are being proposed, but so are management actions.

Fangman explained, “Because there’s things that we can do to help people know how to be good stewards. So that’s part of it, too. Helping make sure people understand when you go out on these waters, here’s how to be a good steward.”

Some ways you can help are don’t touch the coral. Don’t run aground. The sanctuary has boater education courses, as well as an app for smart phones.

Fangman said, “We’re doing everything we can to try to make sure that people know what they need to know to be responsible when they go out and enjoy these resources.”

Some of the potential changes in regulations relate to water quality, including cruise ship discharge.

Fangman said, “What’s important for your listeners to know is this is not a final decision. This is a draft rule and it reflects what we heard when we put out four alternatives. This reflects a selection among those. We didn’t just pick one of the previous four, all together and say okay, it’s all of this going forward. No. We picked from different proposals and reflected what we heard from the public, but now we need people to use their voice once again and tell us what they think of this because it really, truly does matter. We listened. We took into consideration and made adjustments based on what we heard from the community and we will do that again.”

A virtual session will be held on August 16 which will include a Q&A. There will also be multiple public comment opportunities, one virtual on August 30, and in person ones at Coral Shores High School on September 20, Marathon High School on September 21, and Key West High School on September 22.

Public comment will also be held at the October 18 meeting of the Sanctuary Advisory Council.

Fangman said, “After all of that comes in as well as the comments from our agency partners, then we go back to our offices and sit down with all of the comments, take all of that into consideration and develop a final rule. We are managing these resources in partnership with the state of Florida, so we will sit down with them and discuss those. Once we can agree on what the finals are, then that goes forward. I can’t give you a date. I wish I could. There are so many elements that go into the timing of that and things that we can’t frankly control here, locally, so it’s hard to say, but my hope is…it would probably be ambitious to say a year from then, but maybe a year and a half to two years after we close the public comment period we would have a final that we can all move forward with.”

Enforcement of the regulations and changes is done by a variety of different agencies. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), FWC (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) and the Coast Guard enforce regulations.

Fangman said, “That said, they can’t be everywhere. Just like on the highway, traffic patrol can’t be everywhere. That said, we still need to take these steps because I believe most people will follow the rules whether there’s a law enforcement officer sitting right there and watching or not. So protections still matter. Speed limits still matter even if there’s not a law enforcement officer on the highway.”

For more information on what’s going on at the sanctuary, click here: