Restoration Blueprint FAQs
QUESTION: Where are we in the Restoration Blueprint process?
ANSWER: As noted under the "Timeline" tab on the Restoration Bluepri nt webpage, we are in the next to last stage called "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Public Comment." The previous public comment phase featured several alternatives that have been distilled into a single proposal, following the review of more than 1,000 individual comments. This final round of public comment for the proposed rule will be used to issue a final regulatory document and management plan. It should be noted that many agencies have been involved in this process, including the White House Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA (National Ocean Service - Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, National Marine Fisheries Service), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Navy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Division of Historical Resources, and the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils.
QUESTION: Why do Florida Keys waters continue to need federal protection?
ANSWER: The current conditions of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are the result of more than a century of pressures, including a history of discharges, coastal development, habitat loss, and over exploitation of large fish and keystone species. Many pressures on natural marine resources are chronic and, to some degree, cumulative. Today, pressures include vessel traffic, coral disease, marine debris, commercial and recreational fishing, and disturbances to wildlife. Factors such as climate change, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are large-scale issues that also affect sanctuary resources. Updating regulations and management action will reduce impacts of local- and regional-scale stressors and increase the resilience of the ecosystem.
QUESTION: What is the economic impact of the proposed changes?
ANSWER: The marine ecosystem drives the economy and local way of life in the Florida Keys. The proposals for future management of the sanctuary must aim for long-term sustainability. Many factors determine the health of our marine ecosystem and, thus, the strength of the local economy. Through adaptive management, the sanctuary can more quickly address immediate concerns such as coral disease outbreaks and severe weather events, while also dealing with more enduring issues like water quality and climate change. On the Restoration Blueprint webpage under the headline "Document Library" you will find a socioeconomic impact study of the proposed rule.
QUESTION: Why is NOAA proposing sanctuary expansion and changes?
ANSWER: Boundary expansion is based on ecological connectivity and provides additional protections for ecosystems of national significance. An ecosystem-based management approach provides sanctuary administrators with the platform to address a wide array of issues including the degradation of the highly diverse and economically valuable coral reef ecosystem. NOAA is proposing to expand the geographic area of the sanctuary to address a range of resource management needs expressed during public comment periods. Boundary expansion would align the geographic boundary with the "area to be avoided" regulatory boundary, including the northernmost area of the sanctuary, would close a gap in the Tortugas Region, and would add Pulley Ridge as a distinct unit.
QUESTION: Would the proposed plan add more marine zones and more restrictions?
ANSWER: NOAA is proposing to expand several protected areas and revise the restriction for several others to provide protection to sensitive habitats and species that have experienced declines or to protect restoration activities. Several new marine zones are also included and new zone types are included to promote habitat restoration. Regulations for certain zone types are also proposed to be updated. For example, sanctuary preservation areas (SPAs) would no longer allow capture of baitfish under a permit, and exceptions for catch and release fishing by trolling in four SPAs would be eliminated. Anchoring in all SPAs would be prohibited; moorings would be required to be used. NOAA has developed a mobile app that provides GPS information on the real-time location of zones for on-the-water users. The Restoration Blueprint web page has several videos that provide context around these recommendations.
QUESTION: What are the proposed modifications to regulations?
ANSWER: Sanctuary-wide regulations would largely remain the same with the following changes proposed:
- Technical updates to definitions and terminology.
- Updates to permitting to align with state and ONMS-wide permit types.
- Updates to emergency regulations to allow a temporary regulation to be in effect for up to six months (180 days), with one six-month (additional 186-day) extension, and to provide a clear process on how and why those temporary regulations would be implemented.
- Updates to discharge exemption to prohibit discharges from cruise ships.
- Pertaining to vessels:
- Require large vessels to use specific large vessel mooring buoys.
- Prohibit vessel abandonment or leaving harmful matter aboard.
- Require notification by the vessel operator or owner within 24 hours of a grounding incident and removal of vessel within 72 hours of incident.
- Prohibit fish feeding (including sharks) from a vessel or while diving, without impacting traditional fishing activity.
QUESTION: What revisions to the sanctuary management plan are proposed?
ANSWER: The revised management plan includes a vision and mission, goals, and priority objectives and activities designed to meet those goals. The management plan focuses on understanding sanctuary resource condition and value, reducing impacts to resources, and enhancing stewardship and collaboration. Revision of the management plan includes acknowledgement of the need to play a greater leadership role with the Water Quality Protection Program, development of management effectiveness monitoring, evaluation of visitor use, and development of a restoration plan. The plan includes emphasis on the need to strengthen enforcement through cooperative partnership with other agencies and enhancing public knowledge, understanding, and compliance. Placement of marker and mooring buoys would be updated for new or altered marine zones, and mooring placements in heavily used areas and for large vessels would be reviewed.
QUESTION: How would sanctuary expansion and proposed regulations affect fishing activities?
ANSWER: Four sanctuary preservation areas that currently allow catch and release fishing would no longer allow this activity under the proposed rule. In addition, permits for bait fishing in sanctuary preservation areas (SPAs) are proposed to be eliminated. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary would coordinate with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to determine whether commercial bait fishing in state water SPAs should continue. These proposed alternatives were developed after hearing input from recreational and commercial fishermen, as well as the non-fishing community in the Florida Keys. The proposed changes offer resource protection while allowing compatible activities. Other fisheries management actions will continue to be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA Fisheries, in coordination with the sanctuary, with advice from the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fisheries Management Councils.
QUESTION: What happens after the comment period closes?
ANSWER: Public input is vitally important to determine the future of the Florida Keys. Public comment on the proposed rule will take place for 100 days, and can be submitted and viewed on regulations.gov. After reviewing the comments, NOAA would conduct an environmental and socioeconomic analysis of and formally propose a set of final regulations, which would be published in the Federal Register. That would be followed by an opportunity for review by the governor of Florida as well as by Congress. We expect implementation of any final action would occur soon after public release of the final Restoration Blueprint and final rule.
QUESTION: Under what authority is NOAA undertaking this action?
ANSWER: NOAA has initiated this process under authority of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, which requires periodic review and update of national marine sanctuary management plans and regulations. This is the first comprehensive review of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's regulations and marine zoning approach since they were established in 1997. In the two decades since, and even farther back to the establishment of Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975 and Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary in 1981, much has been learned about what management tools work and where improvements can be made.
QUESTION: Does NOAA need congressional authority for changes since the sanctuary was initially designated by Congress?
ANSWER: No. An administrative modification of sanctuary management is consistent with both the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Accordingly, congressional action is not required to make changes; however, Congress does have the opportunity to review the final rule prior to its implementation.