User Group Support for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Continues to Increase

June 4, 2009

Snorkelers in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Snorkelers in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Stakeholder support for management strategies and regulations of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary grew dramatically among key user groups over a 10-year period, according to a study conducted by researchers from NOAA, the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Thomas J. Murray and Associates. The increase in support is particularly significant among commercial fishermen, the majority of whom were against the creation of the sanctuary.

“Among commercial fishermen, dive operators and environmental group members, a majority or a plurality believe that the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has benefited both the environment and community of the Florida Keys,” said Bob Leeworthy, chief economist for the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

The peer-reviewed study compared perceptions of key users in a 1995-96 baseline study with users in 2006. The study was funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and conducted through a partnership between the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and other government agencies and academic institutions.

A Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary sign welcomes visitors.

A Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary sign welcomes visitors.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The study revealed greater support for the sanctuary among the commercial fishing community, with a shift from highly negative responses to a supportive or neutral position. In the original baseline study, 78.4 percent of commercial fishermen were against the sanctuary’s creation. However, the 10-year replication survey found 42 percent were against the sanctuary, 41.7 percent supported it and 14.3 percent were neutral.

“Most commercial fishermen cited the public process that resulted in the creation of the no-take Tortugas Ecological Reserve within the Florida Keys sanctuary as the reason for changing their attitudes,” said Leeworthy. “That process really allowed the local community to have a say in the Sanctuary boundaries and regulations.”

The report fulfills a commitment made to stakeholders, who met in 1998 to design the Socioeconomic Research and Monitoring Program for the Florida Keys sanctuary, that the study would be replicated in 10 years. After a decade of experience with management of the sanctuary, the study found significant movement in a positive direction on management processes, performance and support. 

Florida keys.

More than 2.5 million people visit the Keys each year, and of those, 70 percent visit the waters of the Sanctuary to fish, dive, and boat.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

For example, dive operators’ support for establishing the Keys sanctuary increased from 64 percent to 87 percent after 10 years, and a majority believes that 18 no-take zones within the sanctuary have reduced conflicts among user groups.

The goal of the study is to use the results to enhance cooperation between key user groups. The full study, with an executive summary and a series of fact sheets for each user group, is available online. Results of a second socioeconomic study of visitors and Keys residents will be released later this year.

Established in 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of important marine habitat, including maritime heritage resources, as well as coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.