Marine Zoning and Regulatory Review: Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about the ongoing marine zoning and regulatory review. Click on the question to view the answer.

If you have a question that you don’t see listed here, let us know at floridakeys@noaa.gov.

 

  • What is Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary?

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    Designated in 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of 14 marine protected areas in the National Marine Sanctuary System. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the 2,900 square nautical miles of waters surrounding the Keys. The sanctuary extends from south of Miami westward to encompass the Dry Tortugas, excluding Dry Tortugas National Park. The shoreward boundary of the sanctuary is the mean high-water mark, essentially meaning that once you set foot in Keys waters, you have entered the sanctuary.

    Within the boundaries of the sanctuary lie spectacular, unique, and nationally significant marine resources, from the world’s third largest barrier reef, extensive seagrass beds, mangrove-fringed islands, and more than 6,000 species of marine life. The sanctuary also protects pieces of our nation’s history such as shipwrecks and other archaeological treasures.

    Administered by NOAA, a federal agency within the Department of Commerce, the sanctuary was created and exists under federal law. However, because approximately 60 percent of the protected area falls in state waters, the sanctuary is also effective in these state waters under consent of the State of Florida. This creates a unique partnership whereby the sanctuary is administered by NOAA and cooperatively managed by NOAA and the State of Florida through its Department of Environmental Protection under a cooperative agreement.

    To learn more about the sanctuary, visit our sections on history, legislation, regulations, science, marine zones, and accomplishments.

     

  • What are the Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges?

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    The Key West National Wildlife Refuge, the first national wildlife refuge in the Florida Keys, was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 to curtail the harvest of birds whose feathers were highly valued in the clothing industry. Wading birds were threatened with extinction before this refuge began providing a safe haven for them and other threatened plant and animal species. The refuge encompasses over 375 square miles of open water and 2,019 acres of land. The Key West National Wildlife Refuge protects habitat for a wide variety of birds including nesting and/or wintering populations of terns, frigate birds, white-crowned pigeons, ospreys, and great white herons. Also, the sandy beaches of the refuge are nesting habitat for the endangered Atlantic green and loggerhead sea turtles.

    The Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge is a vast array of pristine, isolated keys, extending over 264 square miles of open water in the Gulf of Mexico. The habitat of these keys is mostly low mangrove islands which are not easily accessible. Established in 1938, the refuge now gives permanent protection to the largest of North America's wading birds — the great white heron. With long graceful plumes, this color variation of the great blue heron is found only in the Florida Keys and the southern part of the Florida mainland. Rare birds, such as the white-crowned pigeon, roseate spoonbill, and the only known colony of laughing gulls in the lower Florida Keys, nest here as well.

     

  • What is the marine zoning and regulatory review?

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    The marine zoning and regulatory review public process for determining whether current sanctuary regulations are sufficient to achieve the purpose for which the sanctuary was established. This review will culminate in an update to the sanctuary’s management plan. In accordance with processes and guidelines established in the National Marine Sanctuary Act, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act, the review will involve an initial public scoping period, an analysis of environmental impacts, and public comment opportunities throughout the process.

    During this review, the sanctuary and its advisory council will evaluate whether existing management strategies, including 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 as well as restore degraded habitats.

    The review process will examine the sanctuary boundary, current sanctuary-wide regulations, the sanctuary’s marine zones, and zone-specific regulations. Included in the review of zones will be an assessment of the 20 Wildlife Management Areas located in the Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges. These Wildlife Management Areas are co-managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the sanctuary.

     

  • Why is the sanctuary undergoing a marine zoning and regulatory review?

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    There are several reasons that this process is being undertaken:

    Community interest: In past management plan reviews and over the subsequent years, many members of the public have made clear our need to reexamine our management and conservation strategies. At the August 2011 Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting, the council passed a resolution requesting that Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary initiate a formal regulatory review process.

    It’s good management: Periodic evaluation of regulations is good adaptive management practice, ensuring that marine zones and regulations continue to function best for dynamic natural resources and evolving patterns of human use.

    The science shows we need to:  Scientific advancements to our understanding of marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs, may indicate different zones or regulations are needed to best conserve Florida Keys marine resources. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report shows that human actions — such as poaching, boat groundings, and pollution — continue to degrade the habitat and living resources of the sanctuary, but may be improved with long-term management efforts, regulatory compliance, and community involvement.

    Emerging threats need to be addressed:  Climate change, ocean acidification, invasive lionfish, and the listing of coral species as threatened were largely unanticipated events at the time the 1996 regulations were issued.

    Requirements:  Both federal law and state resolution require the Sanctuary Management Plan to be reviewed every five years, and examining regulations is an integral part of that review. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife's 1992 Backcountry Management Plan also requires updating and renewal.

     

  • Why is the refuge undertaking a review of its backcountry management plan?

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    The Backcountry Management Plan, an agreement between the State of Florida and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuges, established idle speed, restrictions on personal watercraft and airboats, no motor, and no access buffer zones near critical wildlife habitats in the Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges in 1992.

    Because the refuges were established prior to the sanctuary, and their boundaries overlap the sanctuary’s boundary, these zones were subsequently incorporated as Wildlife Management Areas in the sanctuary’s General Management Plan, released in 1996. These Wildlife Management Areas are co-managed between the sanctuary and refuge and any review of their regulations involves both agencies. The management agreement provides for jointly reviewing and revising the plan every five years as necessary to protect marine wildlife resources.

     

  • Why is it important to have marine zones and regulations in the sanctuary, and what are the existing zones and regulations in the sanctuary and refuge?

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    Protecting and conserving marine resources is critical to sustaining the tourist-based economy of the Florida Keys. Marine zones and regulations are tools that allow the sanctuary and refuges to carry out their primary goal of resource protection. Some regulations apply on a sanctuary-wide basis and others are specific to certain zones or zone types. The U.S. Congress directed NOAA to consider “temporal and geographical zoning” in its management plan as one means to ensure protection of sanctuary resources. 

    The different types of zones help protect sensitive natural resources from disturbance or overuse by human activities, separate visitors engaged in conflicting uses like diving and fishing, and preserve the biodiversity of an area. The sanctuary uses a holistic approach called ecosystem-based management to identify and protect specific areas (i.e. breeding grounds, nursery habitats, or biodiversity hotspots) that contribute to the overall, long-term sustainability of surrounding environments. The ecosystem-based approach differs from single-species management, such as endangered species or fisheries management, in its emphasis on protecting key habitats and environmental characteristics that are used by a range of species. It focuses on reducing conflicts among natural resource users, sometimes in the form of spatial regulations that may protect the health or safety of people engaged in certain activities.

    Read more about sanctuary zones and regulations.

     

  • Why is fishing prohibited in some of the zones? How is the sanctuary authorized to become involved in fisheries management?

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    Fishing activities in the Keys have been regulated by national marine sanctuaries since 1975 with designation of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries authority to regulate fishing comes from the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA). Sanctuaries can issue regulations, including regulation of different types of fishing activities, as needed to protect the resources and qualities for which individual sanctuaries were designated.

    The NMSA specifies in Section 304(a)(5) how any sanctuary fishing regulations are to be developed. Specifically, NOAA provides the relevant fishery management councils an opportunity to prepare draft sanctuary fishing regulations. The Council has 120 days to act upon the request and use the national standards of section 301(a) of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act as guidance to the extent they are consistent and compatible with the goals and objectives of the sanctuary. If the draft regulations are found by NOAA to meet the goals and objectives of the sanctuary and the purposes and policies of the NMSA, they will be published as draft sanctuary regulations under the authority of the NMSA.

    The protocol for fisheries management at FKNMS is based on a cooperative agreement between NOAA and the state of Florida, which sets forth provisions on how NOAA and the state of Florida will cooperate on specific matters such as regulatory amendments, permits and other matters. Full details are available in the cooperative fisheries management agreement.

     

  • What is the Sanctuary Advisory Council and its role in this review?

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    Sanctuary Advisory Councils are volunteer community advisory groups established to provide advice and recommendations to the superintendents of the national marine sanctuaries. Councils serve as liaisons between their constituents in the community and sanctuaries. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council has seats representing boating, fishing, tourism, research, and other stakeholder interests as well as non-voting government seats from federal and state agencies.

    In 2011, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council requested NOAA begin its review of sanctuary marine zones and regulations in response to concerns raised by the public and recent findings from scientific research on the degraded conditions of some habitats in the Florida Keys marine environment. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report showed pressure from increasing coastal populations, ship and boat groundings, marine debris, poaching, and climate change were critically threatening the health of the Florida Keys ecosystem. The report highlighted that human actions continue to negatively affect the habitat and living resources of the sanctuary, but may be improved with long-term management efforts, regulatory compliance, and community involvement.

    During the marine zone and regulatory review, and with extensive involvement from the public, the sanctuary and its advisory council evaluate whether existing management strategies, including regulations and marine zones, address threats to marine resources and consider if changes are warranted to better address these threats.

     

  • What are the marine zoning and regulatory review goals, objectives, and principles adopted by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council?

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    At its December 2011 meeting, the Sanctuary Advisory Council voted unanimously to adopt a draft set of goals and objectives, as well as principles to guide the marine zoning and regulatory review process which started in 2012.

    For more information, read about the review and its goals, objectives, and principles .

     

  • Who is my representative on the Sanctuary Advisory Council?

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    You can contact any Sanctuary Advisory Council member you choose, but you are encouraged to contact the council member who represents your interest group or geographic area. Council members represent interests such as boating, fishing, diving, tourism, research, conservation and education. Contact information for council members is available here.

     

  • What are the key steps of the process?

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    In summer 2012, the Sanctuary Advisory Council held public scoping meetings in the Florida Keys and south Florida and gathered input from the public on issues they would like the marine zoning and regulatory review to address.

    The Sanctuary Advisory Council will use the public input gathered at the scoping meetings to develop possible alternatives to management actions affecting marine zones and regulations.

    Sanctuary Condition Report:

    In 2011, the Sanctuary’s Condition Report provided the first comprehensive report on the status of sanctuary resources, using a rating scale from "good" to "poor." Each resource was also assigned a trend based on scientifically observed changes over time. The report led to increased interest in the threats that those resources still faced, and raising questions about whether the sanctuary’s marine zones, boundaries, and regulations were sufficient for addressing those threats.

    Advisory Council Goal Setting

    In late 2011, the Advisory Council established goals and objectives to guide their involvement in the marine zoning and regulatory review.

    Public Scoping & Advisory Council Input

    On April 19, 2012 NOAA and FWS published a Notice of Intent to begin public scoping and announcing the agencies’ intent to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. In summer 2012, the Sanctuary Advisory Council held public scoping meetings in the Florida Keys and south Florida and gathered input from the public on issues they would like the marine zoning and regulatory review to address. The full results of the public scoping are available online, and are summarized in the sanctuary’s Public Scoping Summary Report, which was released in August 2012.

    Throughout 2013 and 2014, the Sanctuary Advisory Council gathered public input at the scoping meetings to identify key issues and develop ideas and recommendations for management actions affecting marine zones and regulations. They developed a workplan and addressed each issue by hearing presentations and holding discussions at advisory council meetings. Some issues were addressed by working groups, which held public workshops. By October 2014, the advisory council had addressed all workplan items. Some of the working groups and discussions led to advisory council motions (available by topic here), requesting that certain modifications to zones and regulations be analyzed by NOAA in its development of a draft Environmental Impact Statement.

    Learn more about workplan and working groups.

    Agency Analysis & Development of Alternatives

    At this step in the process, NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) review and analyze ideas put forward by the public and the advisory council. They must also consider the best available science about the conditions, stressors, and changing environmental threats in the sanctuary. This is done by consulting with partner agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and by compiling and assessing relevant socio-economic and environmental information. Any changes to zones, regulations, and boundaries will be organized into management alternatives in a formal document known as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS outlines the management alternatives and outlines potential socio-economic and environmental.

    Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Public Comment

    When the DEIS is released by NOAA and FWS, they will publish a Notice of Availability (NOA) and distribute the DEIS for public comment. The public comment period for the DEIS will last for at least 90 days.

    Final Environmental Impact Statement

    Once the public comment period for the DEIS is closed, NOAA and FWS considers and responds to public comments in the Final EIS (FIES), and identifies the agency action. They may select one of the management alternatives as it stands or combine existing alternatives to create the final management plan. The agency will also create a Record of Decision that explains how they have mitigated the final socio-economic and environmental impacts.

    Draft Regulations and Public Comment

    NOAA and USFWS will release draft regulations, followed by a period of public comment.

    Final Regulations

    NOAA will release final regulations.

    A summary of the review process and a timeline is available online.

     

  • What is the current status and timeline of the review?

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    The advisory council has reviewed all the major marine zoning and regulatory issues raised in public scoping following a workplan they established early in the process. Many of the workplan items were ultimately addressed through Sanctuary Advisory Council Motions that requested NOAA address particular ideas in its development of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are reviewing and analyzing these ideas into a few management alternatives in a formal document known as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). More information on the status of the review can be found online.

  • How are the public scoping comments being addressed?

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    The 1,300 public comments received during the 2012 scoping period were categorized by topic into a scoping summary document which helped guide the Sanctuary Advisory Council in their determination of high priority issues to address during this review of regulations and marine zones. The council created a workplan to guide them through their review of topics. Comments related to issues outside sanctuary jurisdiction were forwarded to the appropriate management agency.

    The most complex topics were addressed through advisory council working groups, while other subjects were addressed through presentations and discussions during the bi-monthly advisory council meetings throughout 2013 and 2014. In October 2014, the advisory council had worked through all the items in its working plan, and in many cases created motions that requested NOAA consider certain zones, regulations, or other ideas in their analysis of potential management alternatives.

  • Where can I find the working groups' recommendations to the Sanctuary Advisory Council?

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    Individual working groups, which included members of the Sanctuary Advisory Council as well as scientific and community experts, provided advice and recommendations for analysis to the full advisory council in 2013 and 2014. For detailed information about each working groups' recommendations to the council, visit the webpages below:
    • Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration Working Group
    • Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection Working Group
    • Ecosystem Protection: Ecological Reserves, Preservation Areas, and Wildlife Protection Working Group
    • Artificial Habitats Working Group

  • Which working group recommendations were forwarded to NOAA? Where can I find the advisory council's recommendations to NOAA?

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    The advisory council discussed working group ideas during their regular bimonthly meetings throughout 2013 and 2014. They passed motions advancing the ideas for modifications to zones and regulations on to NOAA with a request that they be analyzed in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. In some cases, they added further zones and ideas to the motions for NOAA to consider.

    All Sanctuary Advisory Council motions related to the marine zoning and regulatory review are available online, organized according to the workplan items or by meeting date.

  • How will the advisory council’s inputs be incorporated into changes to the sanctuary’s zones, boundaries, and regulations?

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    NOAA is reviewing and considering the ideas and alternatives put forth by the Sanctuary Advisory Council for potential changes to zones, regulations, and boundaries. The advisory council’s inputs were part of an extended public scoping process, in which NOAA solicited input from the public before proposing any changes to its zones, boundaries or regulations. Agency actions of this type must follow the National Marine Sanctuary Act and must as well as guidelines found in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and Administrative Procedure Act.

    The council’s ideas will be analyzed, compiled, and developed into a set of management alternatives that will be published in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS will outline the action that will be taken under each management alternative and discloses relevant facts about potential socio-economic and environmental impacts associated with each of those alternatives. For more information, read more about the review or visit the NOAA NEPA website.

  • What is an Environmental Impact Statement?

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    An Environmental Impact Statement is a public disclosure document that analyzes the socio-economic and environmental impacts of any proposed federal agency actions that may have significant environmental impacts. It is a federal document required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and must be issued in two parts, first as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that analyzes the social and environmental impact of a series of potential management alternatives, including the status quo. The purpose of the DEIS is to outline all relevant facts and possible socio-economic and environmental impacts associated with alternative management options under consideration by a federal agency so that the public can comment on these alternatives before a final federal decision is made. Once public comment has been received and the agency has identified a final action, a final Environmental Impact Statement is issued explaining any action(s) that will be taken and how, if at all, its impacts have been mitigated. For more information, read more about the process or visit the NOAA NEPA website.

  • Why does the marine zoning and regulatory process take so long?

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    The process of reviewing marine zones and regulations can be lengthy because there are set steps and guidelines, including public comment periods, that must be followed according to federal law. Any changes or additions proposed in sanctuary zones or regulations must be consistent with the National Marine Sanctuary Act and must follow guidelines found in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and Administrative Procedure Act.

    NEPA requires government agencies to solicit input from the public on any proposed actions through the scoping process. Scoping is followed by the development of alternatives, which involves describing and evaluating the different possible management actions. Draft alternatives are published in an Environmental Impact Statement for public comment and a final decision of record is made. The NEPA review is a thorough process intended to disclose all relevant facts and possibilities associated with federal decisions and to ensure that the public is informed and has the opportunity to comment. Details about NEPA can be found on NOAA's NEPA website.

     

  • How can I comment on the review or become involved?

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    Members of the public are always welcome to provide input through their representatives on the Sanctuary Advisory Council. The public can also attend advisory council meetings and submit written comments or speak up during the public comment period.

    To find out about upcoming meetings, bookmark the sanctuary’s online events calendar, follow us on Facebook, and/or sign up for the marine zoning and regulatory review email updates. To add yourself to the list, you can subscribe online. Your name will be added to the list of subscribers and you will receive all posts via email.

     

  • In the sanctuary’s Condition Report, what factors were identified as influencing the current conditions of the sanctuary?

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    Current conditions of the water quality, habitats, and living and cultural resources of the sanctuary are the result of more than a century of pressures, including a history of pollution discharges, coastal development, habitat loss, over exploitation of large fish and key species, as well as water quality impacts that originate outside of the sanctuary and from climate change.

    Dredge and fill, untreated storm water, and discharge of poorly treated sewage have been historically widespread throughout Keys before the sanctuary’s designation. In the 1950-70s, more than 120 miles of residential canals were dug, often too deep and too lengthy to allow proper flushing, thus influencing canal and nearshore water quality. During that time, many acres of tropical hardwood hammocks in the Florida Keys were cleared to provide land for housing and commercial development and more than 50 percent of the historic mangrove habitat was destroyed. Also prior to sanctuary designation, the Keys experienced mass die offs of key species such as corals and sea urchins from disease and the Keys have been subject to over fishing of large fish, sea turtles, queen conch, etc.

    Learn more about the historical influences which have affected the Florida Keys marine resources in the Florida Keys Condition Report 2011.

     

  • In the sanctuary’s Condition Report, what management actions have been identified as resulting in improved conditions?

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    Since its designation in 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has worked to address human influences to resource health. Sanctuary management actions, including the prohibition of pollution discharges and the designation of highly protected zones, have helped improve water quality, increase the size and abundance of certain fish species and spiny lobster in the sanctuary’s Ecological Reserves, and document the return of some historic fish spawning aggregations. Human actions — such as poaching, vessel groundings, and discharging of marine debris — continue to negatively affect the habitat and living resources of the sanctuary, but they may be improved with long-term management efforts, regulatory compliance, and community involvement.

    Learn more about improvements to resource conditions in the Florida Keys Condition Report 2011.

     

  • What is the value of the marine sanctuary and its resources to the Florida Keys community?

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    The economy of the Florida Keys is dependent upon a healthy marine ecosystem. More than 33,000 jobs in the Florida Keys are supported by ocean recreation and tourism, accounting for 58 percent of the local economy and $2.3 billion in annual sales. From 2007 to 2008, more than 400,000 visitors and residents of the Florida Keys engaged in over two million person-days of recreational sports fishing. These recreational fishers spent $262 million in Monroe County/Florida Keys, approximately $103 million of which was directly spent on fishing items. Approximately 739,000 visitors and residents participated in 2.8 million days of diving in the Florida Keys between 2007 and 2008; $51.7 million was spent at diving/snorkeling operations. Moreover, divers spent a total of $450 million in Monroe County, Florida Keys, supporting more than 7,500 jobs.

    For more information, visit the Socioeconomic Research and Monitoring Program for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary website.

     

  • Who should I contact if I have questions?

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    If you have any questions on the marine zoning and regulatory review contact your representative on the Sanctuary Advisory Council.