DRAFT Environmental Impact Statement Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Marine Zoning and Regulatory Review

Executive Summary

Background, purpose, and need

Following the principles and processes set forth in the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) developed this draft environmental impact statement to evaluate the impacts to the human and ecological environment from a variety of management measures that would further the existing sanctuary management in a comprehensive effort to protect the ecosystem and maintain the vibrant quality of life and economies of the Florida Keys. This draft environmental impact statement considers various alternatives to help counteract the decline in resource condition in the Florida Keys through a series of regulatory and management measures designed to reduce threats and, where appropriate, restore coral reefs, seagrasses, and other important habitats. 

On November 16, 1990, Congress designated FKNMS. The sanctuary encompasses 3,800 square miles. It spans a shallow water interface between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, and is adjacent to most of the relatively shallow estuarine waters of South Florida, including those of Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay. FKNMS surrounds more than 1,700 islands, which constitute most of the limestone island archipelago of the Florida Keys. This archipelago extends from the Florida peninsula south and west over 220 miles (354 km), terminating at the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park. The oceanic boundary of FKNMS is the 300-foot isobath (~100-meter depth). FKNMS shares trusteeship of marine resources with the state of Florida, as 60 percent of the sanctuary falls within state waters. 

FKNMS protects open ocean, offshore reef tract and nearshore patch reefs, seagrass meadows, hardbottom regions, and fringing mangroves. FKNMS waters and habitats support high species diversity due to the presence of both tropical and subtropical species, including the largest documented contiguous seagrass community in the Northern Hemisphere and extensive coral reef habitat. The sanctuary is also home to maritime heritage resources that encompass a broad historical period.

The Florida Keys are part of the much larger South Florida regional ecosystem, which possesses a wealth of natural resources while also facing major ecological challenges and restoration opportunities. The South Florida ecosystem supports unique and diverse habitats, including the seagrass beds of Florida Bay, mangrove swamps, the Everglades sawgrass prairies, and Florida Keys tropical hardwood hammocks, mangroves, and coral reefs. 

The South Florida ecosystem has also been extensively altered through development of drainage canals completed to facilitate coastal development, agriculture, and flood control. These canals have significantly altered the distribution, timing, and quality of freshwater flow within the South Florida watershed, resulting in degraded marine habitats and other environmental changes that continue to impact the estuaries of Florida Bay and the environment of the Florida Keys.

Chapter 1 - Introduction & Background

1.1 Summary of the proposed action

This draft environmental impact statement includes a proposed action with various components that would help counteract the decline in resource condition in the Florida Keys through a series of regulatory and management measures designed to reduce threats and, where appropriate, restore coral reefs, seagrasses, and other important habitats. Following the principles and processes set forth in the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, this draft environmental impact statement evaluates the impacts to the human and ecological environment under a variety of management measures that would further the existing management in a comprehensive effort to protect the ecosystem and to maintain the vibrant quality of life and economies of the Florida Keys.

As the lead agency for this federal action, NOAA proposes to: expand the boundary of the sanctuary, update sanctuary-wide regulations, update the individual marine zones and their associated regulations, and revise the sanctuary management plan. In preparing this DEIS, NOAA worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), a cooperating agency that manages the USFWS Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex areas that overlap portions of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This action and associated alternatives are described in more detail in Chapter 3.

Chapter 2 - Purpose of and Need for Action

2.1 Proposed action

NOAA proposes to: (1) expand the boundary of FKNMS, (2) update sanctuary-wide regulations, (3) modify existing and create new marine zones, (4) update associated marine zone-specific regulations, and (5) revise the sanctuary management plan. NOAA has considered state and federal authorities in proposing new regulations to ensure protection and management of sanctuary resources. Proposed new regulations are intended to complement existing authorities.

The foundation of the proposed action and alternatives outlined in Chapter 3 are the suite of Sanctuary Advisory Council recommendations, which are based on the goals, principles, and objectives outlined in the 2012 FKNMS advisory council regulatory and zoning alternatives development work-plan (see www.floridakeys.noaa.gov/restoration).

Chapter 3 - Description of Alternatives

This chapter includes descriptions of the proposed range of alternatives (including the preferred alternative) and detailed descriptions of the individual components of each alternative (e.g., boundary, marine zones, etc.). To implement this action, NOAA is considering four alternatives. Each alternative includes the following components: (1) changing the sanctuary boundary, (2) updating sanctuary-wide regulations, (3) modifying existing marine zones and creating new ones, (4) updating marine zone-specific regulations, and (5) updating the sanctuary management plan (see Tables 3.1-3.7 for summaries of the alternatives and their components). An impact analysis of the alternatives is included in Chapter 5. NOAA considered federal and state authorities in proposing new regulations and how these regulations complement existing authorities. 

NOAA developed a reasonable range of alternatives for review and evaluation as required by the White House Council on Environmental Quality's National Environmental Policy Act regulations at 40 C.F.R. ยงยง 1502.14 and 1505.1(e). This DEIS also complies with NOAA's Companion Manual to Administrative Order 216-6A, which states that an EIS will include an analysis that considers and weighs the environmental impacts of the proposed action, the environmental impacts of alternatives to the proposed action, and alternatives available for reducing or avoiding adverse environmental effects.

Chapter 4 - Affected Environment

4.1 Introduction

This chapter provides detailed information on the biological, physical, historical, and economic resources affected by the proposed action and alternatives presented in Chapter 3. This chapter includes a site description and an overview of the baseline resource conditions within the study area of the proposed action (i.e., the potentially affected area for a particular resource).

This chapter is organized by sections on each resource area or type of use that may be impacted by the proposed action or alternatives, as follows:

  • Biological resources
  • Physical resources
  • Pulley Ridge Unit and associated resources
  • Cultural and historical resources
  • Socioeconomic resources and human uses

Each section includes a discussion of the general conditions of the resource or use within the study area. The study area varies by topic, but is generally inclusive of the existing sanctuary and national wildlife refuges boundaries, the area to be avoided, Florida Bay, and Pulley Ridge (Figure 4.1). Appendix D gives an overview of federal regulations and federal and local jurisdictions and agreements that apply to the study area. 

Since the proposed action includes a series of separate alternatives and regulatory actions that may not equally affect all areas of the sanctuary or refuges, the focus of the affected environment description is on the resources or uses that may be affected by changes in the sanctuary boundaries, sanctuary-wide regulations, marine zone boundaries, or marine zone regulations. As a result, some sections, such as hydrology under physical resources, provide only a general discussion of the resource conditions, while others, such as the biological resources section, provide a more specific discussion of the resources. The nature of existing conditions in the affected area waters is interpreted from available literature and summarized in the resource sections.

Only the background environmental and socioeconomic conditions relevant to the proposed action or alternatives are presented. Resource areas that have been determined to have no potential for impacts by the proposed action or alternatives are not discussed in this DEIS. These include land use, utilities, and visual resources.

Chapter 5 - Environmental Consequences

5.1 Introduction

This chapter evaluates the anticipated environmental effects on the biological, physical, cultural and historical, and socioeconomic and human use issues associated with the proposed action and alternatives, including the no action alternative (Alternative 1), presented in Chapter 3. The potential impacts apply to the affected environment described in Chapter 4. Also discussed are the potential cumulative impacts and unavoidable adverse impacts. As described in Chapter 3, the proposed action and alternatives include proposals for changes to five specific components of FKNMS management: (1) the sanctuary boundary, (2) sanctuary-wide regulations, (3) marine zone boundaries within the sanctuary, (4) marine zone regulations, and (5) changes to the sanctuary management plan. 

During the public scoping process and Sanctuary Advisory Council review, numerous issues were raised. To the extent that these issues were relevant to the draft environmental impact statement, they are included in the analysis. Original scoping comments can be found at: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?rpp=25&po=0&D=NOAA-NOS-2012-0061.

Chapter 6 - Conclusions

6.1 Summary of preferred alternative

NOAA's preferred alternative is Alternative 3, which includes the following components: (1) changes to the sanctuary boundary, (2) updating sanctuary-wide regulations, (3) modifying existing marine zones and creating new ones, (4) updating marine zone-specific regulations, and (5) updating the sanctuary management plan. A summary of each of these components is included below.

Chapter 7 - References

Appendices

Appendix A - List of Preparers

Appendix B - Technical Revisions

Appendix C - Draft Programmatic Agreement

Appendix D - Regulatory Framework

Appendix E - Listed species

Appendix F - Navy Operational Environment

Appendix G - Correspondence to Date

Sanctuary Boundary and Marine Zone Alternative Maps

satellite view of the state of florida
View interactive map

Additional Background and Supporting Material

Existing Sanctuary Regulations

Existing Sanctuary Management Plan

FKNMS Condition Report

Sanctuary Advisory Council Regulatory and Zoning Alternatives Development Workplan

Sanctuary Advisory Council and working group meetings

Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment and Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Assessment (PDF)

ONMS Best Practices for Vessel Operations (PDF)