Frequently Asked Questions about the Condition Report 2011 for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about the sanctuary’s Condition Report.
Click on the question to view the answer.

Comments or questions may also be emailed to floridakeys@noaa.gov with "Condition Report" in the subject line.

 

  • How does the Condition Report 2011 for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary differ from other documents about sanctuary condition and activities?

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    The Condition Report 2011 for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is the first NOAA report to comprehensively describe the status, pressures and trends of resources in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This report is a summary of various research done in the Florida Keys, and is meant to be used in conjunction with the more detailed summaries of the individual research and monitoring programs, such as the sanctuary’s zone monitoring program, water quality protection program , etc.

     

  • How will the Condition Report be used?

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    This report helps identify strengths in current sanctuary monitoring efforts, as well as factors that affect sanctuary health and may require additional monitoring and management actions. For example, this report supports the need for additional management actions that address the degraded conditions of some important habitats and living resources in the sanctuary. This report, along with the other more detailed reports produced by sanctuary and research partners, will inform sanctuary management during a comprehensive review of its regulations, anticipated to begin in 2012.

     

  • Why do some conditions continue to decline despite the protective measures put in place by the sanctuary?

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    In 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary inherited an ecosystem that had been compromised by more than a century of pressures, including boat and anchor damage to corals, pollution discharges, coastal development, habitat loss, over exploitation of large fish and key species. Unfortunately, negative pressures have been impacting the marine resources of the Florida Keys for many years. Science shows that negative impacts to the environment can happen quickly — as in the case of disease outbreaks, hurricanes, or pollution — whereas positive changes in ecosystem health take considerably more time. The sanctuary’s established long-term monitoring programs allow sanctuary managers to observe both declines in ecosystem health, and improvements resulting from management and regulatory actions. Some human actions — such as discharging pollutants and marine debris, poaching, and vessel groundings — continue to negatively affect the habitat and living resources of the sanctuary, despite regulations which prohibit such activities.

     

  • What historic influences contributed to the current state 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. At the time FKNMS was designated in 1990, there were 19 facilities, including water treatment plants, power plants, a desalination plant and industrial facilities, actively discharging pollution directly into nearshore waters and impacting water quality. 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.

    Over the past century, the Keys island chain has been physically altered to accommodate trains and vehicles. By filling in island passes to create highways and railroad beds, the flushing dynamics between four major bodies of water adjacent to the sanctuary — Atlantic Ocean, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, and Gulf of Mexico — were permanently affected. The timing, volume and quality of freshwater flows were severely altered in the 1950s through the Army Corps of Engineers draining of the Everglades. The loss of freshwater wetlands also impacted wading bird populations that thrived there. Although some freshwater flow is currently being restored, it can never be restored to its original state.

    During the 1950–70s, many acres of tropical hardwood hammocks in the Florida Keys were cleared to provide land for housing and commercial development. During that time more than 50 percent of the historic mangrove habitat was eliminated through the creation of "fastland," and more than 200 canals and access channels were dredged, reducing the ecosystem’s ability to filter runoff, causing an increase in nutrients to adjacent waters.  

    Also prior to sanctuary designation, the Keys experienced mass die offs of key species such as corals and sea urchins from disease, and been subject to over fishing of large fish, sea turtles, queen conch, etc.

     

  • What is the sanctuary doing to address pressures to Water Quality?

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    • In 1990, the sanctuary’s designation included a prohibition on oil drilling and hard mineral mining within its boundaries.
    • In 1994, the Water Quality Protection Program was created to better understand how humans impact water quality and how those changes affect sanctuary resources. Through the program, coral, seagrass and water quality have all been monitored since the mid-1990s.
    • In 2002, the marine area of the Florida Keys was designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area by the International Maritime Organization.
    • In 2002, state waters of the sanctuary became a "no discharge zone" and the sanctuary promoted a "Pump it, don’t dump it" outreach campaign.
    • In 2008, the sanctuary sponsored the Florida Bay algal bloom workshop to better understand algal blooms and address impacts to sanctuary waters.
    • In 2009, the state of Florida required public wastewater treatment facilities within one mile of a beach to be investigated when an advisory is issued for that beach.
    • In 2010, federal waters of the sanctuary were designated a no discharge zone , prohibiting discharges from marine sanitation devices and requiring that they be locked while in the sanctuary.
    • The sanctuary continues to support Mote Marine Laboratory’s Marine Ecosystem Event Response and Assessment program, helping the science community better understand the nature and causes of events including harmful algal blooms, red tides and fish kills, and whether they are natural or linked to human activities.
    • Wastewater treatment facilities throughout the Keys must be upgraded to meet the best available technology/advanced wastewater treatment standard by July 1, 2015.

     

  • Have improvements in water quality been documented since the Keys started implementing advanced wastewater treatment?

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    The sanctuary’s established long-term water quality, seagrass and coral reef monitoring programs and special studies allow sanctuary managers to observe both declines in ecosystem health, and improvements resulting from management and regulatory actions. One such special study examined water quality in the canals of the Little Venice area of Marathon pre and post construction of a nearby advanced wastewater treatment facility. Researchers documented a 77 percent decrease in fecal coliform and a 57 percent decrease in enterococci bacteria four years after cesspools and nonfunctional septic tanks were removed and this waterfront residential neighborhood was connected to central sewer.

    Nutrient enrichment from poorly treated wastewater is only one element that affects nearshore water quality and coral reef health. Stormwater run-off, marine sanitation devices, and upstream inputs also affect water quality and therefore the health of the marine environment. Science shows that degradation of the environment can happen quickly, whereas improvements take considerably more time.

     

  • What is the sanctuary doing to address pressures to Habitat?

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    • When the sanctuary was designated, an "Area to Be Avoided" was established to prevent ships larger than 50 meters from transiting through sensitive areas in the sanctuary, reducing instances of large vessel groundings.
    • Large vessel avoidance and RACON beacons installed on lighthouses have resulted in declines in large vessel groundings.
    • The sanctuary utilizes a strategy of marine zoning to protect sensitive habitats like shallow coral reefs.
    • The sanctuary manages a system of more than 400 mooring buoys to provide boaters an alternative to dropping anchor and damaging coral.
    • Sanctuary regulations prohibit dropping anchor on corals in waters less than 40 feet deep when the bottom is visible.
    • The sanctuary’s Team OCEAN program uses staff and volunteers to educate boaters at popular reef sites and in protected areas about the unique nature of the coral reef habitat and sanctuary regulations.
    • The sanctuary also organizes volunteer clean-ups to remove marine debris from shorelines and mangrove islands.
    • Sanctuary teams assess and restore vessel grounding injuries to seagrass and coral habitats, as well as perform coral rescue activities associated with coastal construction

     

  • What is the sanctuary doing to address pressures to Living Resources?

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    • The sanctuary uses a strategy of marine zoning to protect the biological diversity of specific areas in sanctuary waters.
    • The sanctuary manages a system of more than 400 mooring buoys to provide boaters an alternative to dropping anchor and damaging coral.
    • The sanctuary established the Blue Star education and stewardship program to help reduce the impact of divers and snorkelers on the coral reef ecosystem.
    • NOAA has established the Dolphin SMART education and stewardship program encouraging responsible viewing of wild dolphins.
    • Sanctuary staff assess and restore vessel grounding injuries to seagrass and coral habitats, as well as performs coral rescue activities associated with permitted coastal and nearshore construction.
    • NOAA, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, awarded $3.3 million to support Acropora coral recovery and restoration in Florida, including the Florida Keys, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Other coral nursery efforts are also underway in the Florida Keys that contribute to coral restoration.
    • The sanctuary has encouraged private efforts to examine long-spined sea urchin recovery via nursery propagation and rearing.
    • The sanctuary manages a well established permitting program for activities that are otherwise prohibited by sanctuary regulations, including the removal of the invasive lionfish from the small no-take zones.
    • The sanctuary supports Mote Marine Laboratory's Florida Keys BleachWatch program, which utilizes volunteer observation on the actual condition of corals during the summer coral bleaching season.
    • The sanctuary also participates in oil spill drills sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard and is a partner in the Florida Reef Resilience Program.

     

  • What is the sanctuary doing to address pressures to Cultural Resources?

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    • 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.
    • Sanctuary regulations prohibit alteration of the seafloor, thus commercial salvage in the sanctuary must go through a review process before a permit for salvage is issued.
    • Volunteers have documented more than 400 underwater historical sites in the sanctuary as part of the inventory "Underwater Resources of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary."
    • The sanctuary also developed a historic Shipwreck Trail which highlights nine historic vessels that sank in sanctuary waters. An overall brochure and individual underwater site guides for each vessel have been distributed to area dive operators and are available for download online. The sites on the trail are marked with spar buoys and have mooring buoys to help eliminate damages from anchoring.

     

  • 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 2 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 Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

     

  • What can individuals do to improve the condition of water quality, habitat, and living and cultural resources?

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    Water Quality:
    • Support and participate in advanced wastewater treatment programs that remove unwanted nutrients and harmful bacteria;
    • For your vessel’s sewage, use pump-out stations and always observe the no discharge zone in the Keys;
    • Around the home and office, use as many "green" products as possible, such as phosphate-free soaps and detergents, and dispose of your household chemicals and hazardous wastes according to label instructions;
    • On your property, reduce or eliminate the use of fertilizers, construct vegetation berms to reduce the runoff of fertilizers or yard wastes, and landscape with native plants;
    • When fishing, after cleaning your catch, do not throw fish carcasses or other organic waste into canals where they can reduce water quality and contribute to low oxygen conditions.

    Habitat:
    • Reduce, reuse and recycle;
    • Participate in a marine debris cleanup;
    • Get involved in community coral restoration projects;
    • Practice responsible boating to avoid running aground on seagrass or coral;
    • Practice good reef etiquette to avoid injuring coral or other marine life;
    • Always properly dispose of your monofilament.

    Living Resources:
    • Support sanctuary highly protected zones like ecological reserves;
    • Practice responsible boating to avoid running aground on seagrass or coral;
    • Practice good reef etiquette to avoid injuring coral or other marine life;
    • Follow all fishing regulations and marine zone rules;
    • Report instances of poaching or other violations to law enforcement.

    Cultural Resources:
    • Leave artifacts in place;
    • Report people removing or disturbing artifacts to law enforcement;
    • Report the discovery of artifacts to sanctuary maritime heritage staff.

     

  • How may I comment on the Condition Report or a management issue?

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    The sanctuary invites members of the public to attend Sanctuary Advisory Council meetings held every other month, and its Water Quality Protection Program steering committee meetings held twice a year. Comments may also be emailed to floridakeys@noaa.gov with "Condition Report" in the subject line.