Response to Pressures
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary uses an ecosystem approach to comprehensively address the variety of impacts, pressures, and threats to the Florida Keys marine ecosystem. It is only through this inclusive approach that the complex problems facing the sanctuary can be adequately addressed. The goal of the sanctuary is to protect the marine resources of the Florida Keys by interpreting the marine environment for the public and facilitating human uses of the sanctuary that are consistent with the primary objective of sanctuary resource protection.
The sanctuary was created and exists under federal law. It became effective in state waters with the consent of the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund of the state of Florida, which is comprised of the governor and cabinet. It is administered by NOAA and is jointly managed with the state of Florida under a co-trustee agreement, specifically through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). In addition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) enforces sanctuary regulations in partnership with sanctuary managers and the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA 2007).
Regulations are an integral component of the sanctuary management process. They make up an important part of sanctuary management by regulating certain activities on a sanctuary-wide basis and others depending on how an area of the sanctuary has been categorized or zoned. Permitting, authorization, notification and review processes allow certain activities that are otherwise prohibited to take place under carefully controlled circumstances (NOAA 2007).
An enforcement presence in sanctuary waters is necessary in order to protect and conserve resources. Sanctuary law enforcement has traditionally been accomplished through a Cooperative Enforcement Agreement between NOAA and the state of Florida. Beginning in 1981, NOAA and the state entered into an agreement in which the Florida Park Service, previously responsible for managing the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, continued to provide management services to NOAA, including enforcement of sanctuary regulations. The state, now in the form of the FWC, continues as the sanctuary's primary enforcement arm. A recent example of this cooperative enforcement agreement includes two of Florida's largest illegal lobster fishing cases on record that took place in 2009. In these cases, divers were caught and later convicted of taking more than 10,000 pounds of lobsters off of illegal artificial structures known as casitas in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. These two separate cases were built by NOAA Fisheries Service agents and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, and FWC played an important role in executing the resulting search and seizure warrants9.
In addition to traditional law enforcement activities, the sanctuary relies heavily on "interpretive enforcement," which seeks voluntary compliance primarily through education. The goal of interpretive enforcement is to gain the greatest level of compliance through understanding and public support of sanctuary goals. Interpretive enforcement emphasizes informing the public through educational messages and literature about responsible behavior before resources can be adversely impacted. Sanctuary law enforcement officers, staff and volunteers talk directly with users and distribute brochures in the field and throughout the community. Such encounters allow officers to make direct, informative contact with visitors and local residents while conducting routine enforcement activity. Preventive enforcement is achieved by maintaining sufficient presence within the sanctuary to deter violations. Successful enforcement relies on frequent water patrols and routine vessel boardings and inspections. Water patrols ensure that sanctuary users are familiar with regulations in order to deter willful or inadvertent violations and provide quick response to violations and emergencies (NOAA 2007).
The following section describes current or proposed management responses to pressures impacting sanctuary resources.
Marine zoning10 is being employed in the sanctuary to assist in the protection of the biological diversity of the marine environment in the Keys. Zoning is critical to achieving the sanctuary's primary goal of resource protection. Its purpose is to protect and preserve sensitive components of the ecosystem by regulating activities within the zoned areas, while facilitating activities compatible with resource protection. Zoning ensures that areas of high ecological importance will evolve in a natural state, with minimal human influence. Zoning also promotes sustainable use of the sanctuary resources, and protects areas that represent diverse habitats and areas important for maintaining natural resources (e.g., fishes, invertebrates, etc.) and ecosystem functions.
In 1997, the sanctuary implemented its management plan that created special areas of varying sizes and purposes, and prohibited extractive activities within them. These areas were designated as types of marine zones in order to reduce pressures in heavily used areas, protect critical habitats and species, and reduce user conflicts. The efficacy of the marine zones is monitored sanctuary-wide under the Research and Monitoring Action Plan. The implementing regulations for this system of marine zones were instituted in the sanctuary in 1997. Three of the zone types (Sanctuary Preservation Areas, Ecological Reserves, and Special-use areas) are fully protected no-take areas, where all consumptive activities (e.g., lobstering, fishing, spearfishing, shell collecting) are prohibited. In July 2001, the 151-square-nautical-mile (518 square kilometers) Tortugas Ecological Reserve was implemented and is the largest of the sanctuary's fully protected zones. All fully protected no-take zones combine to protect 6% of sanctuary waters, and encompass 65% of the spur and groove shallow coral reef habitat by extending beyond them and into the Florida Straits (Figure 37).
The zone types within the Sanctuary include:
- Areas to Be Avoided (ATBA) - These areas prohibit the operation of a tank vessel or vessels greater than 50 meters in registered length, with a few exceptions (e.g., national defense, law enforcement, responses to emergencies). Some ATBA boundaries buffer those of the sanctuary (Figure 37).
- Existing Management Areas (EMA) - These areas were established either by NOAA or another federal agency prior to 1997 when sanctuary zoning regulations went into effect. EMAs delineate the existing jurisdictional authority of other agencies and have their own protections and restrictions above and beyond those that apply sanctuary-wide. Examples include Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, Key West National Wildlife Refuge, and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.
- Wildlife Management Areas - These areas minimize disturbance to especially sensitive wildlife populations and their habitats. Examples of such areas include bird nesting, resting, or feeding areas and turtle nesting beaches. Regulations governing access are designed to protect endangered or threatened species or their habitats, while providing opportunities for public use. Access restrictions can include no-access buffer zones, no-motor zones, idle speed only/no wake zones, and closed zones. There are 27 wildlife management areas, 20 of which are under the management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System. These areas are located within the Great White Heron, Key West, Key Deer, and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuges.
- Ecological Reserves - These areas encompass large, contiguous and diverse habitats. They provide natural spawning, nursery, and permanent residence areas for the replenishment and genetic protection of marine life and to protect and preserve all habitats and species, particularly those not protected by fishery management regulations. Two ecological reserves protect areas that represent the full range of diversity of resources and habitats found throughout the sanctuary. These areas limit consumptive activities, while continuing to allow activities that are compatible with resource protection. This provides the opportunity for these areas to evolve in a natural state, with minimal human influence.
- Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPA) - These areas protect shallow reefs along the reef tract. SPAs encompass discrete, biologically important areas that help sustain critical marine species and habitats. Regulations for this zone type are designed to limit consumptive activities and to separate users engaged in different kinds of activities. Diving, snorkeling and boating are allowed inside these zones. SPAs have mooring buoys for boaters to use in order to prevent anchor damage to corals. The actual size and location of these zones was determined by examination of user patterns, aerial photography, and ground-truthing of specific habitats. Some SPAs allow limited baitfishing by permit only.
- Special-use Areas - These areas are set aside for scientific research, restoration, and monitoring. They can be used for specific uses such as long-term research and monitoring and/or minimizing the adverse environmental effects of high-impact activities. Currently, there is only one type of Special-use Area being utilized in the sanctuary; there are four small Research-Only areas (totaling less than three square nautical miles) located between Key West and Key Largo.
- Tortugas Bank "No Anchor Area" - Vessels 50 meters in length are prohibited from anchoring on the portion of Tortugas Bank within the sanctuary west of Dry Tortugas National Park and south of Tortugas Ecological Reserve (North).
- General-use Area - Though not specifically identified in the sanctuary management plan, this zone includes the (remaining) areas in which general sanctuary regulations apply.
Research and Monitoring
The marine ecosystem of the Florida Keys is diverse and complex, and many of its ecological processes and their interrelationships are not well known. Although many resource impacts are obvious and severe, they are often not documented or quantified, and in addition, their causes may be unknown. As a result, the goal of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Research and Monitoring Action Plan(NOAA 2007) is to provide the knowledge necessary to make informed management decisions concerning the protection of the sanctuary's resources. Monitoring enables the establishment of baseline information on natural resources and other components of the ecosystem, and allows for the measurement of changes over time. As monitoring studies gather data, they have the potential to detect significant changes in natural resources that result from management actions or from other causes. The findings of research projects must also help managers and scientists identify cause-and-effect relationships that generate ecological patterns and trends, and stressors and other factors that threaten the health of the coral reef ecosystem.
A few examples of monitoring programs that provide sanctuary managers with basic information about the state of the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem include:
- Water Quality Protection Program - since 1995, has conducted comprehensive, long-term monitoring of three ecosystem components: water quality, coral reefs and hard bottom communities, and seagrasses.
- Ecological Research and Monitoring Program - detects status and trends of various ecological parameters (e.g., habitats such as coral reef and hard-bottom communities, seagrasses, and mangroves; episodic events such as algal blooms and fish kills; ecosystem indicators such as sedimentation rates and turbidity) in order to discern local and system-wide effects of human and natural disturbances on natural resources and to assess the overall health of the ecosystem.
- Marine Zone Monitoring Program - documents the effectiveness of 24 marine zones established in 1997 and 2001, including the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, that are protected from consumptive activities ("no-take zones"). Monitoring projects document trends in ecological processes, reef fishes, Caribbean spiny lobster, queen conch, other invertebrates, and benthic community structure within fully protected marine zones and nearby reference areas.
- Social and Economic Monitoring - documents the levels of use and changes in those levels of use and researches the socioeconomic impacts of management decisions on user groups, including determining the knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of sanctuary management strategies and regulations by commercial fishermen, dive shop owners and operators, and members of local environmental groups. The 2007-2008 study on recreation and tourism in the Florida Keys/Key West extended this to all residents and visitors, however the results are not yet available.
Management Responses to Water Quality Pressures
Point and Nonpoint Sources of Pollution
The sanctuary, in partnership with the EPA and the FDEP, has implemented a Water Quality Protection Program aimed at addressing point and nonpoint sources of pollution in order to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the sanctuary. This includes restoration and maintenance of a balanced, indigenous population of corals, shellfish, fish, and wildlife, along with recreational activities in and on the water. A variety of research has been and is being conducted under the Water Quality Protection Program umbrella. Most studies have been funded by EPA, but funding has also been provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and FDEP.
Some of these are special studies designed to document the fate and ecological impacts of non-wastewater pollutants originating from sources such as permitted discharges, stormwater runoff, groundwater leachates, and marinas. Pollutants may include hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and pesticides (NOAA 2007). The research also includes wastewater pollutants and ecological studies, eutrophication gradient studies, comparative studies of impacted and non-impacted sites, historical studies, and use of sewage tracers (NOAA 2007).
Further efforts to address water quality issues reached a significant milestone in 1999, when the state of Florida requested a No Discharge Zone (NDZ) for city of Key West waters out to 600 feet (183 meters) from shore, prohibiting discharge of treated or untreated sewage from vessels, and the EPA concurred with this request. At the recommendation of the Water Quality Protection Program Steering Committee and the request of the Florida governor, in 2002 the EPA and the state of Florida established a NDZ for state waters within the sanctuary. The Steering Committee requested NOAA establish a similar zone for federal waters of sanctuary. As of December 2010, NOAA amended the sanctuary regulations to prohibit discharge or deposit of sewage from marine sanitation devices (MSDs) within the boundaries of the sanctuary and would require MSDs be secured to prevent sewage discharge or deposit.
Sanctuary educators have incorporated messages about water quality into their presentations and programs in the community and have reached out to local media to publicize this information as part of an annual water quality awareness campaign.
Lastly, Monroe County and local municipalities are undergoing extensive upgrades in wastewater infrastructure that provide advanced wastewater treatment, significantly reducing wastewater impacts and pressures in the area. As part of this upgrade, old plants are being closed down and the new plants use deep-well injection or shallow-water injection instead of nearshore outfalls. All residences and businesses in the Florida Keys will be connected to central sewer by 2015.
The Florida Department of Health has been monitoring beach water quality in the Florida Keys since 2000, as part of the "Florida Healthy Beaches Program." This program tests on a weekly basis for the presence of fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria in beach water. High concentrations of these bacteria may indicate the presence of microorganisms that could cause disease, infections or rashes. When high levels of these bacteria are detected a "swimming advisory" is issued. The cause of each advisory is normally unknown; however, possible sources of pollution have been determined for most beaches in the state. The passage of new state legislation in the summer of 2009 requires the FDEP to investigate public wastewater treatment facilities within one mile of a beach when an advisory is issued for that beach. There are currently 17 beaches tested every week in Monroe County, five of which are within the city of Key West.
The sanctuary is partnering with the EPA and the FDEP to conduct research to understand the effects of water transported from Florida Bay on water quality in the sanctuary. Specifically, circulation studies have been conducted to estimate present-day, long-term net transport and episodic transport from Florida Bay to the sanctuary. In addition, studies have also been conducted to document any ecological impacts of Florida Bay water on sanctuary communities and potentially endangered or threatened species.
Harmful Algal Blooms
The sanctuary provides support and coordination to Mote Marine Lab's Tropical Research Center's Marine Ecosystem Event Response and Assessment (MEERA) Project. The MEERA Project is designed to provide early detection and assessment of biological events occurring in the Florida Keys and surrounding waters. The goal is to help the scientific community better understand the nature and causes of events, such as coral bleaching and disease outbreaks, fish kills, harmful algal blooms, "red tides," and other events that adversely affect marine organisms. Understanding the events will help scientists and managers determine if they are natural or linked to human activities. The project relies on observations made by people who are frequently on the water, such as charter boat captains, recreational boaters, environmental professionals, and law enforcement personnel (NOAA 2007).
In order to manage discharge into the sanctuary, a new NOAA rule, initiated in December 2010, prohibits boaters from discharging or depositing sewage into both state and federal sanctuary waters.
Marinas and Boats
It has been documented that nutrients being introduced into nearshore waters have resulted in water quality degradation. One source of these nutrients is sewage discharge from boats and live-aboard vessels. As a result, in 2002 all state waters in the sanctuary were designated as "no-discharge" zones for sewage (treated or untreated) from all vessels. This designation was made by the EPA under the Clean Water Act. This designation requires that all boats store their sewage in a holding tank, to be pumped out at an approved facility. Mobile pump-out facilities were established to support compliance with this designation (NOAA 2007). Furthermore, NOAA initiated a rule in December 2010 that prohibits boaters from discharging or depositing sewage into both state and federal waters of the sanctuary. Pump-out locations have been identified in the Upper Keys Boater Guide (published by FWC and Monroe County) and a sanctuary one-page science summary that explains the new 2010 rule.
The sanctuary has also worked with the city of Key West and Reef Relief to develop and implement a "Pump It, Don't Dump It!" boater-education program.
Cruise ships started visiting the Port of Key West in the late 1980s and by 2008, 346 ships arrived with nearly 740,000 passengers (Leeworthy et al. 2010). At the peak, cruise ship passengers exceeded 1 million passengers, but this concerned the Key West local government. Local officials felt the city was too dependent on the cruise ship industry for their revenues, and they were concerned about the impact on the quality of life in Key West (Leeworthy et al. 2010). As a result, the Key West Port Authority has since attempted to restrict cruise ship visitation to fewer than 750,000 passengers per year.
Although large cruise vessels are the equivalent of small cities in regard to waste production, they are not subject to the strict environmental regulations and monitoring requirements imposed on land-based facilities, such as obtaining discharge permits, meeting numerous permit conditions and monitoring discharges while at sea. Though all ocean-going carriers (cruise ships included) are subject to numerous international and federal waste disposal regulations, such as the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act, it is a legal option for any large ship to dispose of blackwater (sewage), graywater (waste from showers, sinks, laundries and kitchens), and most other solid waste except plastics while at sea.
The Florida Keys Sanctuary Advisory Council formed a Large Vessel Working Group, which was tasked with investigating the impacts of cruise ships on sanctuary resources (NOAA 2007). The working group collaborated closely with the cruise ship industry and ultimately agreed to support the city of Key West's effort to develop fair and effective environmental practices for large ships. The working group also supported the expansion of the No Discharge Zone into all sanctuary waters for all vessels, including cruise ships.
Petroleum (hydrocarbons) or Chemical Spills
A ban on oil drilling and hard mineral mining was established when the sanctuary was created. Also, in November 2002, the United Nations International Maritime Organization approved designation of the Florida Keys as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). PSSAs are areas that need special protection because of their significance for recognized ecological, socioeconomic or scientific reasons, and which may be vulnerable to damage by international maritime activities. Such designation is not accompanied by additional rules and regulations, but rather seeks to elevate public awareness of the threat of oil spills and hazardous materials to sensitive marine environments.
The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) Oil Spill in 2010 was of an unprecedented magnitude and beyond the scope and design of local ACPs. It also posed an ecological and economic threat to the Florida Keys. During the oil spill response, sanctuary staff and SCAT (Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique) teams monitored shorelines for tarballs. Because the Loop Current never connected to the spill area in the Gulf of Mexico, there was no evidence that any DWH related pollution or contaminants reached the Florida Keys. However, long-term impacts to the overall area, if they occur, will remain unknown for some time.
Despite these measures, the potential for spills still poses a significant threat to sanctuary resources. Spill response is structured via the Incident Command System (ICS) for the legal protection of the trustees of the resource, as well as the "responsible party." As such, the general public is usually not directly involved in the response process, with few exceptions. Response to significant spills is led by the U.S. Coast Guard and the FDEP, with NOAA's Office of Response & Restoration and the sanctuary participating at their request to provide relevant spill trajectory information and to assess damage to marine resources. The primary guidance documentation used by all parties during a spill is the local Area Contingency Plan, which for Sector Key West (includes the Florida Keys) can be found on line athttp://ocean.floridamarine.org/ACP/KWACP. This document was developed as a result of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, has been in place since 1996, and has been regularly updated.
In an effort to streamline communications between responding and trust agencies, NOAA initiated "Safe Sanctuaries 2005" in the sanctuary, which simulated a tanker grounding within the sanctuary that injured coral habitat and historical artifacts and spilled oil that threatened other sanctuary resources. This exercise provided training in emergency response management, including sanctuaries-specific training in the use of the Sanctuaries Hazardous Incident Emergency Logistics Database System (SHIELDS) and in the Incident Command System (ICS); this hypothetical spill scenario was the most realistic at the time (i.e., one tanker spilling a known quantity of a known material). The exercise involved more than 150 people, including representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S.Department of the Interior, the FDEP, the FWC, Monroe County, and various NOAA programs. In addition, in February 2010 staff from the sanctuary participated in theCoast Guard Sector Key West's "Combined Preparedness for Response Exercise Program Full Scale Oil Spill Drill." Sanctuary personnel provided natural resource expertise and guidance to the various response teams, helping identify and prioritize marine habitats in need of protection during the drill. In turn, exercises such as these helped the sanctuary and its agency partners during the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill April - July 2010. For smaller spill events and vessels, the sanctuary has often assumed a lead role in ensuring that fuel, oil, and vessel debris is removed to minimize further damage to sanctuary resources. The sanctuary has a dedicated team of biologists that handle these occurrences.
Commercial and Recreational Fishing
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary does not manage any aspect of commercial or recreational fisheries. Fisheries management agencies with jurisdiction in sanctuary waters are FWC, Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, and NOAA Fisheries Service. Current involvement of the sanctuary in issues related to fishing is primarily through use of marine zones.
Marine fishes depend on healthy habitats to survive and reproduce. Throughout their lives, fishes use many types of habitats including seagrass, salt marsh, coral reefs, kelp forests and rocky intertidal areas, among others. Various activities on land and in the water constantly threaten to alter, damage, or destroy these habitats. NOAA's Fisheries Service, regional fishery management councils, and federal and state agencies work together to address these threats by identifying Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) for each federally managed fish species and developing conservation measures to protect and enhance these habitats. Productive commercial and recreational fisheries are inextricably linked to healthy marine habitats; protecting these habitats will help support fishing communities now and for generations to come. Federal agencies that fund, permit, or carry out activities that may adversely affect seagrass, mangrove, coral, live/hard-bottom, or other habitats that are designated EFH or HAPC by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries Service regarding the potential impacts of their actions on these areas. Through this consultation requirement, NOAA Fisheries may recommend measures to avoid, minimize, mitigate or otherwise offset adverse effects on EFH. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has designated Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as HAPC for coral, coral reef and live/hard-bottom, and areas within the sanctuary as HAPC for coastal migratory pelagic species, such as mackerel and cobia.
The regional fisheries councils and state of Florida have prohibited destructive or wasteful fishing gear, established minimum size and bag limits, as well as seasonal closures, and restricted the take of some species. As mandated by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act (public law 101-605), six types of marine zones were established throughout the sanctuary to reduce user group conflicts and protect resources. These zones were designed to reduce damage to resources and threats to environmental quality, while allowing uses that are compatible with resource protection. The zones protect habitats and species by limiting consumptive or conflicting user activities, allowing resources to evolve in a natural state, with minimal human influence. Exploited species have shown positive responses in these areas (e.g., yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, black grouper), but monitoring and appropriate regulation must be maintained to prevent overfishing. Distribution of fishing rules and information about marine zones and their regulations is a regular component of the sanctuary's education and outreach program, especially at events and festivals and presentations in the community.
As mentioned in Question 12 in the "State of Sanctuary Resources" section of this report, the no-take zones within the sanctuary were not designed as a fishery management tool; however, at the sanctuary's urging, the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute initiated a long-term monitoring project designed to assess if and to what degree these areas served to provide protection of Caribbean spiny lobsters from fishery exploitation. The project was designed to compare the abundance and size-structure of Caribbean spiny lobster observed within the protected area with those encountered at adjacent "reference" sites that were subject to fishing pressure. The general expectation was that if these reserves provided protection from fishing, then the abundance and size-structure of the lobsters encountered within the reserves should increase relative to the adjacent reference sites. The initial five-year monitoring effort concluded that the SPAs were too small to adequately protect Caribbean spiny lobsters from the fishery, but the larger Western Sambo Ecological Reserve (WSER) did function to some degree as a fishery reserve (Cox and Hunt 2005). There, the mean size of legal-sized lobsters and the frequency of occurrence of lobsters significantly larger than those commonly encountered within the fished areas of the sanctuary increased steadily after its establishment.
Continued monitoring of lobsters within the WSER, a smaller adjacent protected area, and nearby fishery-exploited areas found these atypically large lobsters in the areas adjacent to the WSER with increased frequency, suggesting that they were likely emigrating from the WSER. Additional research using acoustic marking to examine the movement patterns of Caribbean spiny lobsters within WSER revealed that Caribbean spiny lobsters do indeed commonly move across the boundaries of the WSER. The increased abundance of these large lobsters within the exploited areas of the sanctuary suggests that the WSER may serve to some degree to enhance fishery landings. Additionally, this study also revealed that female Caribbean spiny lobsters commonly cross the boundary of the WSER to the outlier reef lying seaward of the offshore bank reef to spawn. Although these reproductive-related movement patterns occur primarily during the fishery's spawning season closure, these findings revealed that the WSER does not encompass all of the habitats utilized by adult Caribbean spiny lobsters during their life history, and inclusion of the adjacent outlier reef would serve to enhance lobsters from fishery exploitation.
Lastly, as the Federal agency responsible for ensuring the long-term sustainability of our nation's ocean resources, NOAA continually evaluates the quality of recreational fishing data collected and reported. Considering the ever more detailed uses of NOAA's data in stock assessments and fisheries management decision-making, in 2006 the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences recommended an overhaul of NOAA's data program in order to provide more detailed and timely information to managers, fishermen and other stakeholders. One of the NRC's recommendations was the creation of a universal "phone book" - or registry - of current saltwater anglers. This system will replace the previous method of randomly dialing coastal households, providing a far more efficient and effective way to determine the number of people fishing and the number of trips they take, or what is known as the overall fishing effort. That information is a crucial part of our ability to estimate the health of fish stocks, and to check that protections put in place to preserve fisheries will be fair, effective, and based on sound science. Registration is also a way for NOAA and anglers to work together to help ensure the long-term future of saltwater fishing. As the first comprehensive accounting of the scope of recreational saltwater fishing in the U.S., the registry will help to more fully demonstrate anglers' economic, conservation and marine stewardship impacts. More information about the NRC's recommendations and how NOAA is working to implement them can be found at http://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov.
Climate Change, Bleaching Events, and Weather Disturbances
Extreme water temperature fluctuations in the sanctuary have been linked to bleaching and disease in reef corals and mass mortality of seagrass in Florida Bay. Beginning in 1989, recording thermographs have been deployed by the sanctuary in strategic areas throughout the Florida Reef Tract to monitor water temperature over the long term, and make that information available to management and research user groups. In addition to these thermographs, other state and academic researchers collect in-situ water temperature data and efforts are currently underway by the sanctuary and FWC to build a website that facilitates data sharing and collaboration.
With support from the Mote Marine Laboratory a program was created and modeled after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's "Bleach Watch" program. The Florida Keys "Bleach Watch" Program utilizes volunteers to provide reports from the reef on the actual condition of corals throughout the bleaching season. These field observations help to monitor for signs of coral bleaching. There are two facets to the program: the Professional Program and the Community Program. The Professional Program is for divers who visit a particular reef on a regular schedule and can provide weekly monitoring of the reefs to help gauge the pre-bleaching coral composition and help determine the susceptibility of a site to bleaching. The Community Program is designed for observers who make occasional reef trips or do not frequent the same reef sites. Information gathered from both programs is compiled into a "Current Conditions Report" that provides a comprehensive overview of current conditions throughout the sanctuary.
As mentioned in the "Harmful Algal Blooms" section of this report, the sanctuary also provides support and coordination to Mote Marine Lab's Tropical Research Center's Marine Ecosystem Event Response and Assessment (MEERA) Project. One of the goals of the MEERA Project is to provide early detection and assessment of coral bleaching events in the sanctuary (NOAA 2007).
Sanctuary staff have also supported the Ocean Conservancy and the EPA in implementing the Reef Ecosystem Condition Monitoring Program (RECON). The RECON program trains volunteer divers to collect information about the reef environment, the health of stony corals, the presence of key reef organisms and obvious human-induced impacts. The goals of RECON are to broaden the scope of available information about bottom-dwelling organisms on coral reefs, to alert local researchers and managers of changing reef conditions such as coral bleaching and nuisance algal blooms, and to increase public understanding of these threats to coral reef ecosystems (NOAA 2007).
The sanctuary is also a partner in the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP). This program is managed by The Nature Conservancy, with support from the state of Florida, NOAA and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. A parallel program is in progress at Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and the two programs are designed to complement one another and to inform coral-reef conservation around the globe. Specific to the field component of FRRP, sanctuary staff participate in the disturbance response monitoring efforts, which rapidly assess coral condition and health along the Florida Reef Tract during peak annual water temperatures, as well as after disturbances like the cold-water event of January 2010 (see Question 13).
Diseases of Marine Organisms
The Florida Keys sanctuary has been collaborating with partners to better understand and document diseases plaguing the ecosystem. For example, a collaboration between EPA, NOAA, and Mote Marine Lab began epizootiological assessments of coral disease along the Florida Reef Tract in 1998. This research is ongoing, and aims to assess the prevalence of coral diseases as a function of time, the location within the Florida Reef Tract, and the reef type. Nine disease conditions described in the literature, two additional syndromes and "other disease" affecting scleractinian coral species and sea fans, are used in these assessments. Santavy et al. (2005) describes the epizootiological trends of coral disease from the first four years of this project, and a more comprehensive analysis of similar trends from 2005 to 2009 are in preparation.
In 2009, NOAA awarded The Nature Conservancy and its partners $3.3 million to support threatened coral recovery and restoration in Florida (including the Keys) and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The goal of this project is to recover one acre of coral reefs in each of eight distinct areas of the Caribbean by growing Acropora coral in seafloor nurseries and transplanting them to depleted reef sites (Figure 38). This project will provide significant and tangible ecological impacts through an increase in local biodiversity, as well as enhanced ecosystem services for various user groups, including recreational divers and snorkelers, commercial dive tour operators, commercial fishers and recreational anglers. This funding is a direct result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
In response to the large die-off of long-spined sea urchins in the 1980s, husbandry techniques are currently being refined to produce laboratory-reared individuals to increase sea urchins densities throughout the Florida Keys. Experimental manipulations are also being conducted to compare the behavior of these individuals to wild D. antillarum. The goal of this work is to produce large numbers of ecologically competent hatchery-reared D. antillarum that can be released into the wild as part of a comprehensive reef restoration effort. This is a collaborative effort with Mote Marine Laboratory, and the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
In 1990, as part of the sanctuary management plan, several areas were declared off-limits to tankers and other vessels over 164 feet (50 meters) in length. The Areas to Be Avoided (ATBAs) were developed in response to the region's many historical groundings, and large vessels have been discouraged from operating in those located along the Florida Reef Tract. Four ATBAs account for 1,561 square nautical miles (5,354 square kilometers) of waters within and adjacent to the sanctuary. In addition, sanctuary staff use a database to assess trends in vessel groundings, identify "hot spots" where education and outreach activities can be enhanced, and determine what solutions, such as waterway marking, may be appropriate. The sanctuary is authorized to assess civil penalties and recover the cost of response, assessment, and restoration from the responsible parties. The sanctuary has Damage Assessment, Restoration and Resource Protection (DARRP) teams in the upper Keys and the lower Keys. In conjunction with sanctuary education and outreach staff, managers, and law enforcement personnel, DARRP staff develop grounding prevention measures, minimize impacts, assess impacts, repair injuries where possible, and support the associated legal processes. DARRP team members also conduct seagrass restoration using techniques developed by NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.
Since 1981, mooring buoys have been installed and maintained throughout the sanctuary with the intent to reduce vessel damage to sensitive marine habitats, specifically coral reef formations and seagrass beds, and to submerged archeological resources. There are currently nearly 500 mooring buoys within the boundaries of the sanctuary. While mooring buoys are excellent management tools, other management programs must accompany a mooring buoy program, including education, outreach, research and monitoring. The Mooring Buoy Action Plan, part of the 2007 Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Management Plan (NOAA 2007), establishes a methodology for identifying areas appropriate for mooring buoys and managing boating activities near coral reefs so that detrimental impacts are minimized. By allowing or directing access at selected locations, a Mooring Buoy Program can limit resource use conflicts and damage to the resources. In addition, sanctuary staff travels worldwide, assisting groups with mooring buoy installations that protect natural resources from anchor damage.
The state of Florida and the sanctuary have also been educating boaters to limit risks and improve navigation in coral reef areas. Large vessel avoidance and Racon beacons in lighthouses have resulted in declines in large vessel groundings. State and sanctuary officials have improved their response to grounding events and improved their restoration methods of damaged sites, thereby reducing the extent of damage. Reef restoration is a fertile field of study necessary to determine effective and efficient ways to restore degraded coral reef ecosystems.
Sanctuary education and outreach efforts include resource and safety education for boaters in sanctuary waters. Education is accomplished through information booths at outdoor events and festivals; presentations given to boating, fishing and community clubs and organizations; distribution of boater education materials to businesses in the Keys; and many other programs. FWC provides some of the boater education materials that are distributed. Media outreach on vessel injury prevention and shallow-water boating techniques is accomplished through the Seagrass Outreach Partnership. The partnership is an interagency group that began in the Keys under sanctuary education and outreach leadership, but now has partners statewide. The sanctuary implemented a grant through the Coastal Zone Management Program that identified sensitive areas in need of additional marking by spar buoys to prevent vessel injuries and installed the needed spar buoys in conjunction with Monroe County.
Today, the South Florida Water Management District is responsible for operating and maintaining the Project to continue to provide for urban and agricultural development in coordination with flood and water supply protection (NOAA 1996). To address the priorities of returning more natural water flows to the Everglades and restoring the varied habitats from Kissimmee Chain of Lakes through the Florida Keys, Congress established the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force in 1996. Task force members include federal, state, local and tribal representatives who coordinate numerous restoration initiatives. At the forefront of these undertakings is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a hydrologic plan that hopes to reverse the unintended consequences resulting from the original flood control project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Restoration projects, guided by task force strategic planning and success criteria, include land acquisition, invasive species management, water storage, and stormwater treatment, among others. Restoration projects are expected to take 40 to 50 years to accomplish. Sanctuary staff regularly participate in task force-related committees and actively track the progress of water management and restoration projects designed to restore freshwater flows to two important estuaries adjacent to sanctuary waters: Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay.
Nearshore Construction and Dredging
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FDEP, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and NOAA Fisheries Service serve lead roles in reviewing projects for nearshore construction that trigger federal and state dredge and fill regulations, including the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §1344), Rivers and Harbors Act (33 U.S.C. §403), and Section 373 and Section 403 Florida Statutes of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. §1801 et seq.). Waters of Monroe County have also been designated as Outstanding Florida Waters (62-302.700 Florida Administrative Code), which provides additional protections to water quality. Furthermore, the majority of dredge and fill projects associated with coastal residential and commercial development are regulated under Florida Statutes Chapter 37, while dredging and construction related to deepwater ports is also addressed in Chapters 161 and 403 FS. Construction projects that are not exempted by the sanctuary regulations (those not listed at 15 CFR 922.163(a)(3)(i) - (v)) or that trigger other sanctuary prohibitions are reviewed by the sanctuary. Conditions requiring avoidance of certain species during construction (e.g., stony corals), modification of project design to reduce impacts, or removal of sensitive organisms from the site may be included in any given permit or authorization that the sanctuary issues for a project. To the extent possible, DEP, SFWMD, NOAA Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and sanctuary staff work collaboratively to comprehensively review projects and provide consistent determinations. NOAA also participates in the Naval Air Station Key West Partnering Team, an interagency group formed in 2004 to review large-scale projects, including continued maintenance of water depths in Key West Harbor, which support Navy and Homeland Security operations.
The sanctuary Coral Rescue and Nursery Program was developed in 2003 in response to repairs by the U.S. Navy at Key West Truman Harbor Mole Pier, which threatened thousands of stony corals growing on the wharf. Sanctuary staff have developed protocols for coral risk assessment, rescue and transplantation when corals are found growing on government or private structures that are slated for repair. Preferentially, corals removed from construction sites are transplanted back to the area once activities are complete, or are moved to a nearby location to preserve functional resource value. In instances where on-site relocation is not a viable option, corals are placed in the sanctuary coral nursery at the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environmental Complex in Key West or at an offshore nursery managed by Mote Marine Laboratory. Corals receive routine husbandry until such time that they can be used for beneficial projects, including educational display and exhibition, basic and applied research, and restoration of damaged areas. Use of rescued corals for research purposes reduces the pressure on natural habitats, providing scientists with an alternate and viable source of samples. Rescued corals are also used in management-directed research that will help protect coral reefs in the future.
Similar to other nearshore construction projects, beach nourishment or restoration in the Florida Keys is regulated by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida DEP Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems (BBCS). BBCS has developed strict metrics for sediment grain composition, turbidity allowances, toe of fill effects, and time of year restrictions for these projects. These metrics are outlined in Chapter 161 of Florida Statutes, which addresses beach nourishment and protection structures. Through their permit process, the Army Corps is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service and consider impacts of proposed beach nourishment on species and habitats managed by those agencies, including sea turtles, manatees and essential fish habitat.
Eradication of introduced species is difficult and often impossible, and management practices focus largely on prevention of introductions. However, in one successful example of eradicating an invasive exotic finfish, four Pacific orbicular batfish were captured at Molasses Reef and given to the New England and Florida Aquariums for display.
In June 2008, representatives from approximately 30 state, federal and non-profit institutions met during a workshop to develop an early detection and rapid response (ED/RR) program for non-native marine fish introductions in south Florida. This program identified ED/RR processes from sighting to removal. Since then, staff from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) have been partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), andMote Marine Lab to test and further refine ED/RR protocols for South Florida (Morris and Whitfield 2009). As part of this endeavor, Florida Keys sanctuary staff recently collaborated with REEF and NCCOS to develop an action plan for the control and management of lionfish within sanctuary waters. This plan outlines a detection, control and management strategy for lionfish that will control the densities and impacts of invasive lionfish in the sanctuary (Morris and Whitfield 2009). Between January 2009 and July 2010, there were more than 500 reported sightings and 250 confirmed removals.
As part of the effort to increase detection, reporting and response, REEF has worked with the sanctuary to conduct public workshops and training sessions for on-water professionals. The sanctuary has issued permits to these professionals to remove lionfish in Sanctuary Preservation Areas (no-take zones). Additional workshops continue to train and engage local communities in collecting and handling techniques in efforts to effect successful removals. In addition to tracking done by USGS, sightings of non-native marine fishes are also being tracked through the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project in partnership with federal and state agencies in the hope of preventing additional successful invasions in Florida's marine waters.
To help prevent the establishment of new non-native fishes in Florida's marine waters, NOAA's NCCOS, the USGS and REEF recently published the "Field Guide to Nonindigenous Marine Fishes of Florida" as part of their efforts to detect and remove non-native marine fishes as soon as they are discovered. The guide provides descriptions and illustrations of non-native marine fish species that have been seen along Florida's coasts, and includes maps of the sightings. It is hoped that divers, fishermen, and others will use the guide to report non-native species immediately in order to help prevent their rapid establishment (Schofield et al. 2009).
Until recently, the combination of the sanctuary's marine zones (see Figure 37), and its general regulations were the primary tools used to minimize wildlife disturbance. In an effort to augment these regulatory tools, two education and outreach programs were developed and implemented specifically to promote responsible visitor usage of sanctuary resources: the Dolphin SMART and the Blue Star programs.
A special area of the sanctuary is home to a resident group of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). It is also where many businesses conduct dolphin tours in asmall geographic area. This may cause unnecessary stress to the local dolphin population by disrupting their natural behaviors. Therefore, conservation agencies including NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Fisheries Service, theDolphin Ecology Project, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, as well as local businesses and members of the public, teamed up in 2007 to launch the Dolphin SMART program - a unique, multifaceted program encouraging responsible viewing of wild dolphins and recognizing businesses that participated. Program participation is intended for commercial businesses conducting wild dolphin tours, or any commercial vessel that may opportunistically view wild dolphins. Dolphin SMART offers participation incentives for businesses that follow the program criteria and educate their customers about the importance of minimizing wild dolphin harassment. It also includes an important research component that provides insight about the daily lives of the local, wild dolphin populations. The acronym "SMART" in Dolphin SMART is a reminder of the basic principles of dolphin watching: Stay at least 150 feet (45 meters) from dolphins; Move away slowly if the dolphins seem disturbed; Always put your vessel engine in neutral when dolphins are near;Refrain from feeding, touching or swimming with wild dolphins; and Teach others to be Dolphin SMART. The program has recognized five operators in the Keys, as well as operators in other areas in southwest Florida and Alabama. A list of Dolphin SMART operators also is available online at http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/dolphinsmart/welcome.html.
The Blue Star Program, launched in 2009, was established by the sanctuary to reduce the impact of divers and snorkelers on the local coral reef ecosystem. Blue Star is a voluntary education and recognition program for commercial dive and snorkel operators who are committed to coral reef conservation and education. By forming a partnership with commercial operators to educate their customers about the fragile nature of the coral reef ecosystem, the purpose and goals of the sanctuary, and diving and snorkeling etiquette individuals can use to make a difference. Specific goals of the program include:
- Reduce the amount of damage to coral reefs caused by divers and snorkelers by emphasizing proper etiquette and empowering individual divers with the right information.
- Increase knowledge among divers, snorkelers, and charter boat owners and staff about the purpose, goals and objectives of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and engage them as partners in coral reef conservation.
- Educate the public about the importance of responsible diving and snorkeling in the coral reef ecosystem.
In 2010, British researcher Emma Camp conducted a study analyzing diver interactions with coral reefs, documenting how divers either purposely or incidentally come into contact with coral. Touching coral has been shown to have a cumulative damaging effect on coral polyps. Camp observed more than 80 divers diving with four different dive shops. One of the conclusions of her study indicates that increased conservation education, such as that offered by the Blue Star program, can significantly reduce these diver touches and incidental interactions with the coral reef (Camp 2011).
NOAA supports a precautionary approach when considering the deployment of artificial reefs, and will continue to emphasize the protection, restoration, and enhancement of natural habitats, as opposed to constructing artificial habitats, as a general matter of policy consistent with the Coral Reef Conservation Act, Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act when reviewing related permit applications. The sanctuary recognizes that additional research is needed to better understand both the socioeconomic and coral reef ecosystem impacts of artificial reefs.
In 2006 research was done by NOAA to investigate the hypothesis that the introduction of the USS Spiegel Grove as an artificial reef off Key Largo would alter use patterns on the surrounding natural reefs. The results showed a 13% reduction in diver use on the surrounding natural reefs, a 160.5% increase in artificial reef use, and a net increase in total artificial and natural reef use of 9% (Leeworthy et al. 2006). This represents a positive increase in total business, while reducing pressure on the natural reefs. Concurrently, REEF implemented a five-year monitoring plan to document fish species, sighting frequency and estimated abundance over time at the Spiegel Grove site and at seven nearby natural and artificial reef sites. The primary goal of the monitoring was to document fish recruitment to the artificial reef, detect changes over time in the assemblage and compare patterns of select species between sites. Though the final report does not compare the change in abundance of all species surveyed between natural habitat and artificial structures over time, it does document that the Spiegel Grove had a slightly lower species richness than six of the other seven study sites by the end of the five-year project, which could be related to the impact of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. Similar research is underway by NOAA and REEF for the USS Vandenberg, which was sunk off Key West in 2009.
The revised sanctuary management plan also outlines a strategy related to researching the impacts of artificial reefs. In this strategy, there are three activities that must be carried out by the artificial reef permit holders with oversight from sanctuary staff. The first activity will guide the assessment of effects of artificial reefs on fish and invertebrate abundance and community composition and on other sanctuary resources. Further, the longevity of artificial reefs composed of different materials will be evaluated, and appropriate artificial reef locations will be determined, based in part on these findings. The second activity complements the first; information on habitat modifications caused by artificial reefs is a necessary element of evaluating consistency of artificial reefs with sanctuary goals and objectives. Soft sediments may be altered during installation of artificial reefs, and water flows around these structures are likely to continue to modify soft sediments and their associated communities. Nearby hard-bottom habitats may also experience modifications as a result of altered flows and other factors associated with artificial reefs, thus these factors need to be adequately studied. The third activity will assess and develop regulations for artificial reef construction and evaluate habitat suitability for artificial reef placement.
Since 1994, the sanctuary has helped to organize the Adopt-a-Reef Program, an annual volunteer reef cleanup effort. The program targets recreational divers and provides data placards for recording debris collected at designated locations, usually popular dive sites, coordinated through local dive shops. The types of data collected include date and location of the cleanup, diver name, bottom time, number of trash bags filled, a rank-order of the five most important debris items, and an estimated weight of debris collected. From 1994 to 2000, 866 divers collected 16,535 pounds (7,500 kilograms) of debris, with hook-and-line gear, aluminum cans, plastic, cardboard, wood, and rope from lobster pots constituting the most common items. The materials removed from the sanctuary are prevented from causing further impact to sanctuary resources and the data collected regarding the type and distribution of debris are being used by sanctuary staff for other marine debris response activities.
Team OCEAN is an on-the-water education and information program aimed at protecting the natural marine resources of the Florida Keys, while enriching the experiences of visitors to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It involves the stationing of trained volunteer teams at heavily visited reef sites throughout the Keys during peak recreational boating seasons to serve as educators and inform other boaters about the unique nature of the coral reef habitat, share their knowledge of the best approach to certain areas, demonstrate the use of a mooring buoy, and distribute safety information<
Shoreline and water cleanups are a regular part of the sanctuary's education and outreach Team OCEAN program. Significant amounts of marine debris have been retrieved from sanctuary waters over the years by volunteers and student groups using kayaks to collect debris from shallow waters and larger, recreational vessels to transport it back to shore. Since the sanctuary began tracking the amount removed from this effort (2007), more than 30,000 pounds (13,608 kilograms) of marine debris have been hauled to a land-based solid waste facility. Lost fishing gear, polypropylene rope, Styrofoam buoys, plastic traps, and plastic trap throats constitute the majority of the debris collected by sanctuary staff and volunteers.
The sanctuary has also worked with Monroe County and FWC to identify derelict vessels for removal, and has administered funds for this purpose.
During the 2005 hurricane season, the Florida Keys were subjected to several major storms that mobilized and damaged commercial lobster and stone crab traps, making it practically impossible for fishermen to locate and retrieve their fishing gear. Florida state regulations (Chapter 68B-55 FAC), which normally prohibits removal of commercial traps by anyone other than their owner or law enforcement officers, threatened to hinder removal efforts. Ultimately, the state of Florida partnered with Monroe County to recover more than 45,000 traps from Monroe County waters, at a cost of more than $1.8 million. Marine debris removal also occurs on a smaller scale, as community coastal cleanup events are regularly organized throughout the year. These non-sanctuary-sponsored events help eliminate trap-related debris that has washed onto mangrove islands and beaches.
Summer 2009 also marked the end of a three-year debris removal project in which remote sensing was used to locate illegal lobster-attracting structures, called "casitas." The NOAA Fisheries Service Restoration Center, with support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the sanctuary and other state and federal agencies, oversaw the identification and removal from sanctuary waters of 89 tons of casita material placed illegally.
Lastly, marine debris removal efforts have been directed as part of compensatory restoration in vessel grounding settlements.
Military activities that were specifically identified in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and management plan for the sanctuary are exempt from sanctuary regulations. For new activities, or activities that were not identified in the EIS and management plan, the military is required to consult with the sanctuary (as directed by Section 304(d) of the NMSA) to ensure that the proposed activities are carried out in a manner that minimizes impacts to sanctuary resources.
The most significant military activity occurring in the sanctuary since its designation has been ongoing maintenance of the Key West harbor by the U.S. Navy. In 2003, the sanctuary consulted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and Florida DEP when the Navy proposed maintenance dredging in the Key West harbor, shipping channel and turning basins. The removal of approximately 1 million cubic yards of sediment was permitted by the Army Corps in July 2003 to restore the charted depth and facilitate safe transit of deeper-draft Navy vessels through the area, and has been successful in reducing sediment plumes created by the propellers of these and other larger vessels such as cruise ships. Sanctuary conditions requiring avoidance of known coral areas, and dredge effect monitoring, among others, were incorporated into the Army Corps permit to protect resources. Additional dredging was conducted by the Navy in 2007 to address sedimentation that occurred as a result of the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. The Naval Air Station Key West Natural Resources and Environmental Compliance Partnering Team, an interagency group that includes the sanctuary, was formed in 2004 by the Navy to review large-scale projects, including continued maintenance of the Key West harbor.
The U.S. Coast Guard Sectors Key West and Miami coordinate with the sanctuary on multiple initiatives and provide significant protection to the marine environment of the Florida Keys. Coast Guard-maintained navigation aids, including warning markers, delineate popular reef sites, many of which are protected by the sanctuary as Sanctuary Preservation Areas, Ecological Reserves, and Special Use Areas. The Coast Guard works with the sanctuary and other federal, state and local jurisdictions to develop interagency response plans to oil spills or other environmental threats, which includes participation in the National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program (NPREP). This program was developed to establish a workable exercise schedule meeting the requirements of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Clean Water Act. The NPREP sets forth exercise requirements ranging from small internal or external notification exercises to full-scale, area-wide exercises involving personnel and equipment from federal, state, and local government and industry. The Coast Guard also consults the sanctuary for geographic information system (GIS) support during actual pollution response activities, migrant interdiction operations, and to assist with the development of map products for inclusion in Area Contingency Plans or other response planning documents. More recently, Coast Guard personnel led the Unified Command for intergovernmental response to the Deepwater Horizon MC252 oil spill. The Coast Guard also coordinates closely with the sanctuary through their marine event permitting program, ensuring that authorized events (such as boat races, regattas, fireworks displays and other public and private activities) comply with the sanctuary regulations and include conditions for resource protection.
Management Responses to Pressures Impacting Maritime Archaeological Resources
Proactive management of submerged archaeological resources in sanctuary waters occurs through a Programmatic Agreement involving the sanctuary, the state of Florida, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. This partnership is responsible for managing cultural resources in the sanctuary consistent with the Federal Archaeology Program, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 and the National Historic Preservation Act. Maritime heritage resources in the sanctuary encompass a broad historical range. Because of the Keys' strategic location on early European shipping routes, the area's shipwrecks reflect the history of the entire period of discovery and colonization. Currently, 14 shipwrecks within the sanctuary are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This richness of historical resources brings a corresponding responsibility to protect and preserve resources of national and international interest. Long-term protection requires a precautionary approach to historical resource management, particularly when information or artifacts may be destroyed or lost through direct or indirect activities. Accordingly, the resources are managed for public benefit and enjoyment, while the historical and cultural heritage is preserved for the future. As with all sanctuary resources, submerged archaeological resources are managed to facilitate multiple uses that are compatible with resource protection. (NOAA 2007)
It is an integral part of the sanctuary mission to protect and preserve maritime heritage resources for the public trust while still allowing for the private salvage of publicly owned historical resources. This is accomplished through a rigorous permit system which adheres to the Federal Archaeology Program guidelines. The three-tiered permit system allows for the private sector and institutions such as universities to survey, inventory, research, and recover maritime heritage resources in the sanctuary. The three types of permits available are the Survey and Inventory Permit, the Research and Recovery Permit, and the Deaccession/Transfer Permit. Proper standards of conservation, cataloguing, display, curation and publication must be assured before permitting disturbance of any maritime heritage resources. Such projects are expensive and labor-intensive, sometimes requiring specialists in the fields of archaeology, conservation, museum work, historic shipwreck research, and recovery. Sanctuary staff continues to explore public and private partnerships for management and consider private-sector implementation, when appropriate. A comprehensive GIS database is used to track and monitor permits as well as other maritime heritage resources.
Commercial salvage in the sanctuary can be allowed by permit for abandoned shipwrecks in federal waters. For wrecks in state waters, the state of Florida must be consulted due to their jurisdiction over abandoned shipwrecks through the Abandoned Shipwreck Act. There will be no commercial salvage of maritime archaeological resources of high historical significance, however commercial salvage for objects of low-to-moderate historical significance in areas relatively devoid of significant natural resources can be permitted. The recording and reporting of recovery operations, as well as the curation of representative samples of artifacts, must be consistent with the Programmatic Agreement for Maritime Archaeological Resources Management, as well as the Federal Archaeological Program or equivalent standards. The federal program was developed by the National Park Service by Presidential Order, and includes a collection of historical and archaeological resource-protection laws to which federal managers are required to adhere. The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires federal agencies to develop programs to inventory and evaluate historic resources. NHPA Section 106 requires review of each recovery permit by the State Historic Preservation Office and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Permits within the scope of, and which adhere to all provisions of, the Programmatic Agreement need not go through an additional NHPA 106 review process. The Abandoned Shipwreck Act requires that state's management practices protect shipwrecks, natural resources and habitat areas, and guarantee recreational access to shipwreck sites. Sanctuary management also preserves selected shipwrecks in the sanctuary for research and recreation whereas some artifacts are recovered and preserved in museums with public access (NOAA 2007).
The sanctuary also has an extensive education and volunteer program in maritime heritage resources. Volunteers on the Submerged Resources Inventory Team have documented more than 400 underwater historical sites in the sanctuary. The three-volume inventory entitled "Underwater Resources of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary" is available in public libraries throughout the Florida Keys. The education team has also developed a historic Shipwreck Trail which highlights nine historic vessels that sank in sanctuary waters and represents three broad periods of Florida Keys maritime history: European Colonial, American, and Modern. Brochures and underwater site guides for each vessel have been distributed to area dive operators and are also available in two sanctuary offices. The sites on the trailare marked with spar buoys and offer mooring buoys to eliminate damages from anchoring. The sanctuary also manages 189 Collection-type Heritage Assets, and by way of a Curatorial Services Agreement, more than 100 of these artifacts are on loan to various organizations including the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Historical Museum in Key West, the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust/Crane Point Museum and Nature Center in Marathon, and the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. Of the remaining artifacts, some can be viewed on display in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Upper Region Office.
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9It is illegal to catch lobster from artificial structures in Florida waters, except from fishing gear allowed by FWC, FDEP or Army Corps on permitted artificial reefs (e.g. Duane, Eagle, Thunderbolt). Furthermore, sanctuary regulations (§922.163 (a)(3)) prohibit "...placing or abandoning any structure, material, or other matter on the seabed."
10Marine zone efficacy is currently being evaluated by sanctuary staff and partners. Results are expected to be released to the public in 2012.