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 jointly managed by NOAA and the State of Florida through its Department of Environmental Protection under a co-trustee 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 is a public process for determining whether current sanctuary regulations are sufficient to achieve the purpose for which the sanctuary was established. This review is also an update of the sanctuary’s management plan.

    During this review, and with extensive involvement from the public, 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:  Improvements made in understanding 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 2011 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 threatened elkhorn and staghorn coral populations were largely unanticipated when 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 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.  Some regulations apply to all the waters of the sanctuary while others are specific to certain zones or zone types. 

    Read more about sanctuary zones and regulations.

     

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

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    Sanctuary Advisory Councils are community-based advisory groups established to provide advice and recommendations to the superintendents of the national marine sanctuaries. Councils also 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 voted to embark on a multi-year comprehensive 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 2011 showed that pressure from increasing coastal populations, ship and boat groundings, marine debris, poaching, and climate change are 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 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.

     

  • 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 goals and objectives, as well as principles to guide the marine zoning and regulatory review process which starts in 2012.

    For more information, read the specific Goals and Objectives of Marine Zoning Review and the Principles for Marine Zoning Review.

     

  • 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.

     

  • How are the management changes developed?

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    Regulatory changes are developed based on public input as well as analysis of the science and monitoring conducted in the Florida Keys. Managers work with the advisory council, the scientific community and stakeholders to modify management strategies to address the goals and objectives of FKNMS and the National Wildlife Refuges.

  • What are the key steps and timeline 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.

    The Anticipated Timeline:

    Winter through Summer 2013: Using direction from the sanctuary management plan, the advisory council’s marine zoning and regulatory review goals and objectives, and public comments, the council identified priority issues to be addressed through working groups and workshops. Working groups allow the advisory council to gather information from community experts, user groups, and scientists. Information or advice resulting from working group discussions is presented to the council at its bi-monthly meetings, and may be incorporated or modified when the council makes recommendations for alternatives to analyze to the sanctuary superintendent later in 2013.

    Fall through Winter 2013: The Sanctuary Advisory Council will review input and recommendations from working groups and staff analysis on items in the Sanctuary Advisory Workplan for Alternatives Development. The advisory council will make recommendations for items to be analyzed for their economic and environmental impact.

    Spring through Summer 2014: The Sanctuary Advisory Council will consider a range of recommendations and alternatives including any associated environmental and economic impacts. The council will select a preferred alternative for further analysis through an Environmental Impact Statement. NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will draft an Environmental Impact Statement with preferred alternatives and hold public meetings to gather comments.

    Fall through Winter 2014: NOAA and USFWS will respond to public comments and publish a Final Environmental Impact Statement which will accompany any final regulations with a Record of Decision.

    The earliest new marine zones and regulations would take effect would be summer 2015.

    A summary of the review process and a timeline are available 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 most complex topics will be addressed through advisory council working groups, while other subjects will be addressed in bi-monthly advisory council meetings in 2013. Comments related to issues outside sanctuary jurisdiction were forwarded to the appropriate management agency.

  • How were the working group topics chosen?

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    The most complex topics from the public comment period and those which crossed various geographic regions of the Florida Keys and Tortugas, were selected to be addressed by dedicated working groups. Working groups will address the topics of coral reef ecosystem restoration, shallow water wildlife and habitat protection, and ecosystem protection, and consist of members of the Sanctuary Advisory Council as well as scientific and community experts. These groups will take into consideration public comments and best available research, and make recommendations to the advisory council.

  • How can I have input into the process through the working groups?

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    Members of the public are encouraged to get to know their representatives on the Sanctuary Advisory Council who represent a variety of stakeholder groups, including recreational and commercial fishing, conservation, and citizens at large. Individuals may also attend and make public comment at advisory council meetings and working group meetings.

  • Are the working group meetings open to the public?

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    Yes, working group meetings are always open to the public and are announced through the marine zoning and regulatory review email updates and posted on the sanctuary’s events calendar. Public comment opportunities are available at working group meetings.

  • How will the working groups advise the Sanctuary Advisory Council?

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    Individual working groups, which include members of the Sanctuary Advisory Council as well as scientific and community experts, will provide advice and recommendations for analysis to the full advisory council in late fall 2013.

  • Are the working groups or advisory council recommendations final?

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    No. After hearing the working group reports, the Sanctuary Advisory Council will vote on and forward to sanctuary management recommendations for management changes to analyze for associated environmental and economic impact. Sanctuary management will consider council recommendations and continue consultations with state and federal agency partners, subject matter experts and stakeholders while developing proposed regulatory changes and the associated draft environmental impact assessment. There will continue to be several opportunities for public input before any final decisions are made.

  • Why does the process take so long?

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    The process of reviewing marine zones and regulations can be somewhat lengthy because of the many steps and guidelines 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.

     

  • What opportunities will I have to provide input into the process?

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    In June 2012, the sanctuary and refuges hosted five scoping meetings in the Florida Keys and south Florida to solicit public input. Comments were also accepted online and through mail during the comment period.

    During the development of recommended alternatives phase, members of the public may provide comment at Sanctuary Advisory council meetings and working group meetings and workshops. Meeting dates and locations are available on the Sanctuary event calendar.

    Members of the public are always welcome to provide input through their representatives on the Sanctuary Advisory Council.

    In order to stay informed of public meetings and ways to participate in the review process, you can contact your representative on the Sanctuary Advisory Council, attend advisory council meetings, bookmark the sanctuary’s online events calendar, follow us on Facebook, and sign up for the marine zoning and regulatory review listserv. To add yourself to the list, you can subscribe online or send a message to requests@willamette.nos.noaa.gov with the subject "Subscribe floridakeysreview." 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 process contact your representative on the Sanctuary Advisory Council.