NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary hosts public meetings, seeks comment on sanctuary marine zones and regulations

April 19, 2012

NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is seeking public comment to guide a review of the sanctuary’s marine zones — areas set aside for specific uses — and regulations that will shape Florida Keys marine conservation for the next 20 years.

Public comments are being accepted through June 29, and during five meetings in south Florida and the Florida Keys from June 19 through 27.

The marine zoning and regulatory review is a multi-year, public process to determine whether existing sanctuary boundaries, regulations and marine zones are sufficient to address threats to marine resources, and if new or expanded protection strategies are warranted to better address these threats.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary established the nation’s first comprehensive network of marine zones in 1997 after years of planning, design, and public input. The sanctuary’s zones are designed to protect and preserve sensitive parts of the ecosystem while allowing activities that are compatible with resource protection.

“The Florida Keys economy and quality of life are directly tied to the health of the marine environment,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “Research shows that additional management efforts might be required to address degraded resource conditions. We want to hear recommendations and concerns from boaters, anglers, divers, residents and visitors, and enlist their help in shaping resource management decisions for the future.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex, which co-manages 20 of the sanctuary’s 27 Wildlife Management Areas — units within the National Wildlife Refuge System with the primary means to protect wildlife and their habitat — will also play a key role in the review while it updates its own Backcountry Management Plan.

“Since many of the sanctuary’s Wildlife Management Areas like Boca Grande Key and the Content Keys are co-managed as part of our Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges, it is also timely for us to re-evaluate our 20-year-old backcountry management strategies in conjunction with the sanctuary’s marine zoning and regulatory review,” said Anne Morkill, refuge complex manager.

The sanctuary seeks comments on issues related to its boundaries, marine zones, the Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges, and associated regulations. Public meetings start at 4:00 p.m. and end at 8:00 p.m., during which time staff will provide presentations about the zones and regulations, and accept public comments. The public is strongly encouraged to attend the meetings and provide input on marine management issues.

Comments can be submitted online through the Federal eRulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov (Docket Number NOAA-NOS-2012-0061) until June 29. Comments may also be mailed if postmarked by June 29 to: Sean Morton, Sanctuary Superintendent, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, 33 East Quay Rd., Key West, FL 33040; or Anne Morkill, Refuge Manager, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 28950 Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key, FL 33043

In order to stay informed of ways to participate in the review process, the public is encouraged to contact their representatives on the Sanctuary Advisory Council, attend advisory council meetings, bookmark the sanctuary’s online events calendar, and sign up for the marine zoning and regulatory review listserv.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadow, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online or on Facebook.

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