Your input is needed for the restoration blueprint for the marine sanctuary in the Keys

August 10 – When it comes to maintaining the health of the waters on the planet and the flora and fauna that live there, the Florida Keys takes it very seriously.

Scott Atwell, Communications and Outreach Manager for the Florida Keys Natural Marine Sanctuary, joined Good Morning Keys this morning to talk about the goings on at the sanctuary.

The United States Sanctuary System will be celebrating their 50th anniversary and a new set of postage stamps have been created.

Atwell said, “They came out on Friday. I had ordered mine in advance and they arrived yesterday, so I actually have them in hand. It’s pretty cool. It’s a sheet of 16 images from across our system.”

There are 15 sanctuaries across the country. The Florida Keys Natural Marine Sanctuary is the only one to have two images in the stamps.

There is a coral stamp from the Keys and a balloon fish taken by a Key Largo resident.

Atwell said, “It’s all part of our 50th anniversary for the sanctuary system which will culminate in October. The sheet costs about $9.60. These are literally your forever stamps, which cost 60 cents apiece now, believe it or not.”

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 said, “These are going to be collector’s items, especially since of the 16 images, two were taken in the Keys in the National Marine Sanctuary.”

The back of the sheet of stamps has a map of the sanctuary system in the US.

The Florida Keys Natural Marine Sanctuary has been working on a restoration blueprint and public comment for it will end in October. Part of the blueprint involves no anchor proposals inside sanctuary preservation areas.

Atwell explained, “The one habitat that is present in every sanctuary preservation area, or we can shorthand it and call them SPAs. The one habitat you can find in every SPA is coral reef and corals do not like anchors. That’s why the sanctuary about 30 years ago established the mooring buoy program so divers and snorkelers can bring their boats up to the reef without tossing over an anchor. You just tie up to one of these mooring booths that we maintain at all these different sanctuary preservation areas.”

The mooring buoy sites are so popular that during peak times, there’s often not enough mooring walls available.

Atwell said, “Currently when that is the case, boats are allowed to drop an anchor on visible, sandy bottoms, but our research and monitoring has revealed that it doesn’t always work out as planned.”

Sometimes people drop an anchor in the sand and the current takes it and next thing they know the chain and anchor are on the reef. There’s been evidence of the coral being damaged, including new ones that were planted to restore the reef.

That’s why the restoration blueprint would prohibit anchoring of any kind inside the sanctuary preservation areas. Anchoring would include securing a vessel to the sea bed by any means.

Atwell noted, “Like all the proposals in restoration blueprint, it is a proposal and that’s why we’re having this public comment right now that runs through I think October 26 is the last day.”

Will there be any plans to add more buoys to compensate for the loss of anchoring?

Atwell said, “We’ve established a mooring buoy committee that will evaluate the needs. There’s a balance we need to meet. We don’t want to add so many buoys that we exacerbate an overcrowding problem. I do predict that we will identify some new needs for additional buoys and we’re already looking for ways to secure the funds for that expansion and this committee will get to work pretty soon and start doing this evaluation all up and down the Keys.”

The buoy system runs about 140 miles and there are two different teams that maintain them.

Residents are welcome to comment on the restoration blueprint any time online and there will also be some in-person sessions in September.

Next Tuesday, August 16, there will be a virtual question and answer session from 6 to 9 p.m. about the restoration blueprint. For more information, click here: