Restoration Blueprint FAQs
QUESTION: Why do Florida Keys waters continue to need federal protection?
ANSWER: The Florida Keys have a long history of exploitation. 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. Management to reduce impacts of local- and regional-scale stressors can 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.
QUESTION: Why is NOAA proposing sanctuary expansion and changes?
ANSWER: NOAA is proposing to expand the scope and geographic area of the sanctuary to address a range of resource management needs expressed during public comment periods. 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. Boundary expansion options are based on ecological connectivity and to provide additional protections for ecosystems of national significance. Options for boundary expansion involve aligning the geographic boundary with the Area to Be Avoided regulatory boundary, including the area adjacent to Everglades National Park, closing the gap in the Tortugas Region, and adding 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 to revise the restriction for several others. Several new marine zones are also included in the proposals. These proposals are found in Chapter Three of the Restoration Blueprint and accompanying maps.
QUESTION: What are the proposed modifications to regulations?
ANSWER: Sanctuary-wide regulations largely remain the same with the following changes:
- Technical updates to definitions and terminology to ensure state code references are accurate.
- Updates to emergency regulations to allow a temporary regulation to be in effect for up to 6 months (180 days), with one 6-month (additional 180 day) extension.
- Updates to discharge exemption to disallow graywater from cruise ships.
- Pertaining to vessels:
- Require large vessels to use specific 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 abandoning fishing gear
- Require a permit for live rock aquaculture
- Prohibit fish feeding
QUESTION: What revisions to the Sanctuary Management Plan are proposed?
ANSWER: Revision of the management plan includes phasing out the need for baitfish permits for Sanctuary Preservation Areas and focusing on permits for towing and salvage operations. 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. The plan also clarifies the environmental compliance requirements for maritime heritage sites.
QUESTION: Will one alternative be selected or will elements of the alternatives be combined into a final version?
ANSWER: NOAA has a preferred alternative. However, elements of the other alternatives will be considered and, based on public input, scientific data, and subsequent changes to resource conditions, updated zoning and regulations will be released for additional public comment before implementation of any final changes to the sanctuary's management plan, boundary, marine zones, and regulations.
QUESTION: How would sanctuary expansion and proposed regulations affect fishing activities?
ANSWER:, Alternatives 2, 3 and 4 include proposed restrictions to fishing activities in select zones. 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 with advice from the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fisheries Management Councils.
QUESTION: What happens after the comment period closed?
ANSWER: Public input is vitally important to determine the future of the Florida Keys. Public comment on the initial draft was taken August 20, 2019, through January 31, 2020, and can be viewed on regulations.gov. After reviewing the comments, NOAA will formally propose a set of draft regulations to establish changes. There will be another round of public comments on that refined proposal. Subsequently, if NOAA moves forward with a final action, a final environmental impact statement and final notice of proposed rulemaking will 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 to occur approximately three years following public release of the Restoration Blueprint.
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. This is the first thorough review of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's regulations and marine zoning approach since they were established in 1997. In the two decades since, 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 Sanctuaries Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Accordingly, congressional action is not required to make changes.