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2008 Cordell Bank Mission
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Marine Spatial Planning

Greg Piniak, Research Ecologist
NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research

Location of the Tortugas Banks and boundaries of the FKNMS Tortugas North Ecological Reserve and Dry Tortugas National Park. Click here for a larger image. (Image: NOAA CCFHR)

The goal of effective ocean stewardship is to provide for healthy, productive, sustainable ocean resources.  One way to accomplish this is through Marine Spatial Planning, in which the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities within an ecosystem are balanced to meet specific ecological and socioeconomic objectives.  From an ecological perspective, this requires knowledge of the spatial distribution of habitats, species, and ecosystem functions, as well as the effects human uses have on resources. 

A school of horse eye jacks swims past CCFHR photographer Brad Teer. (Photo: NOAA CCFHR)
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) was established in 1990, and has an extensive marine zoning network to manage conflicting visitor uses while still protecting marine resources.  FKNMS expanded in 2001, with the creation of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve (TER).  TER was at the time the nation’s largest marine protected area.  TER is comprised of two components.  The southern region incorporates Riley’s Hump, an important spawning area for mutton snapper.  The northern region of TER lies just to the west of Dry Tortugas National Park, which has been under various forms of protection since 1935.  Taking of marine life is prohibited in both components of the TER, while diving is allowed only in the TER North.  The National Park does allow recreational fishing harvest, but out of concern for declining fish stocks the National Park created a Research Natural Area in January 2007.  Together the no-take areas in TER and the National Park provide excellent opportunities for scientific research and public recreation and education.

Colorful examples of invertebrates and fishes are captured in this photograph from last year's expedition. (Photo: NOAA CCFHR)
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) research meets Marine Spatial Planning needs in the Tortugas through benthic habitat mapping and synthesis of ecological data to assess and inform marine reserve design.  This year’s cruise aboard the NOAA ship Nancy Foster is a continuation of field research begun in 2000, the year before TER was established.  Results of previous cruises (2008, 2007, and 2005) are being integrated with other data to assess the potential biological and socioeconomic impacts of creating TER.  NCCOS is also working to assess the status of Dry Tortugas National Park.

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