Sanctuary Permits

Through the issuance of permits, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary authorizes projects that would otherwise not be allowed because they are prohibited by sanctuary regulations. The types of activities able to be permitted by the sanctuary typically include research on natural and cultural resources, education, and activities that support sanctuary management, among others. A list of common activities that require a FKNMS permit are listed below. To be granted a permit, the activity described in the application must meet review criteria outlined in FKNMS regulations.

Special conditions found in sanctuary permits ensure that approved projects are allowed to occur with minimal negative impact to the marine environment. The sanctuary issues more than 200 permits every year to private and public institutions, non-governmental organizations, and individuals to further understanding about sanctuary resources and qualities.

Many other agencies have authority over activities that occur in the marine waters of the Florida Keys. Activities conducted under sanctuary permit will often require additional permits or approval from one or more of these other agencies (US Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Monroe County, etc.). Be sure to check with local, state, and federal agencies and municipalities for their requirements.

Permit Timelines

FOR ALL APPLICANTS/INQUIRIES: As of July 2023, FKNMS is experiencing a significant volume of permit inquiries and applications. As such, the timelines set forth below are guidelines only. A response to inquiries and applications will likely take longer than noted below. All permitting questions and inquiries should be directed to Dr. Harrison Albert, FKNMS Permit Coordinator, at

Please visit the pages below for more information and application materials for each type of FKNMS permit. Applications for research, education, and special use permits must use the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries applications and instructions, which may be downloaded here.

Because of the volume of permit requests received by FKNMS annually, a prioritization process is in place that is based on the highest needs of sanctuary managers to inform resource protection. Sanctuary managers will make the determination on whether a specific project falls within priority topics. The current priority topics are (in order):

  1. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD): monitoring/surveillance, response/intervention, and research
  2. Coral restoration and restoration research (i.e., factors that contribute to restoration success)
  3. Coral larval research (e.g., settlement, genetics)
  4. Ocean acidification and climate change
  5. Coral disease research other than SCTLD

Permit applications addressing one or more of these significant and timely research needs should be submitted with as much lead time as possible for review and processing, but at least thirty (30) days in advance of the requested effective date. The sanctuary will make a reasonable effort to meet the requested effective date; however, please note that there is no guarantee a permit application will be processed by the requested effective date due to similar priority applications that may be in the queue.

Applicants proposing projects specific to priority topic #2, coral restoration and restoration research, should additionally review the following documents:

Applicants proposing projects that involve stony corals should additionally review the Guidance on Permit Applications for Activities that Impact Florida Stony Corals.

Permit applications for research activities that do not fall within the current priority topic list should be submitted at least ninety (90) days in advance of the requested effective date. The sanctuary will make a reasonable effort to meet the requested effective date; however, please note that there is no guarantee a permit application will be processed by the requested effective date.

Persons wishing to undertake non-research activities (e.g., educational courses or collections, fireworks, boat races, ashes scattering, and all construction projects that require authorization) should submit the necessary application materials at least 120 days in advance of the requested effective date. The sanctuary will make a reasonable effort to meet the requested effective date; however, please note that there is no guarantee a permit application will be processed by the requested effective date.

All of the above timelines are based upon necessary requirements in the permit review process. These include consultations with other agencies that have jurisdiction over an activity, environmental analyses, and determining whether a proposed activity meets the review criteria in sanctuary regulations. These timelines will necessarily be extended for any sensitive or complicated requests, requests for collection of sensitive or listed species (e.g., coral species), or requests which may require the ONMS to undertake certain National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or consultation requirements (e.g., Area To Be Avoided requests, projects with potentially substantial or unknown impacts, proposals with unique or untested methods). Applications that may require ONMS to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement prior to issuance will typically require twelve (12) months or more to process.


Please direct questions and completed applications for nearshore construction projects to Steve Werndli, FKNMS Enforcement Coordinator, at

Please direct all other questions and completed applications to Dr. Harrison Albert, FKNMS Permit Coordinator, at


diver conducting research

Research and Education Permits (including restoration)
Research and education permits, including permits for restoration of corals and associated organisms, may be issued for projects that increase the scientific understanding or public appreciation of the sanctuary. More


Special Use Permits
Special use permits may be issued for certain categories of activities including certain public events and commercial activities. More




Baitfish Permits
Baitfish permits allow the permit holder to catch baitfish within the Sanctuary Preservation Areas where fishing is otherwise not allowed. More





Lionfish Removal
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary encourages the safe removal of invasive lionfish from its waters. Lionfish may be harvested from within the sanctuary without special permits as long as all existing state and federal (FKNMS) regulations are followed regarding no fishing areas and allowable gear types. More


the Tortugas

Tortugas North Access Permits
Visitors wishing to stop in the Tortugas North area of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve or tie up to the reserve's mooring buoys must obtain a free, no-paperwork permit. More


divers researching a shipwreck

Maritime Heritage Resources Permits
While many areas within the sanctuary that contain cultural resources are open to diving and snorkeling, it is illegal to disturb a site or recover artifacts without a permit. More


Common Activities that Require a FKNMS Permit

Below is a list of common activities that require permits and approval. This is not a complete list. If the activity you are proposing is not listed below, a permit may still be required from FKNMS or oth

er agencies with authority over the activity. It is highly recommended that FKNMS permitting staff be contacted to evaluate any proposed activity.

Research Permit Activities (including restoration):

  • Placing temporary measuring devices, markers, or any other equipment on the seabed (e.g., transects, quadrats, marker stakes, settlement tiles)
  • Placing semi-permanent moored devices on the seabed
  • Collecting sediment or rubble
  • Collecting, touching, or otherwise disturbing corals
  • • Conducting restoration or research on restoration practices aimed at corals and/or associated organisms
  • Discharging any matter or equipment (e.g., dyes, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), expendable bathythermographs (XBTs))
  • Collecting organisms from no-take zones or existing management areas
  • Operating vessels in areas where they are prohibited (e.g., operating ships 50m or greater in the Area To Be Avoided, operating motorized vessels in a no motor zone)

Education Permit Activities:

  • Placing any equipment on the seabed, even if temporary
  • Collecting sediment or rubble
  • Collecting organisms from no-take zones or existing management areas

Special Use Permit Activities:

  • Scattering human ashes
  • Conducting fireworks displays (may require additional permits from other authorities)
  • Placing objects on the seabed temporarily for public or private events (e.g., marker buoys for boat races, regattas, or similar organized marine events; anchor blocks for securing inflatable recreational toys; medallions, eggs, or pumpkins for special holiday events)
  • Placing objects on the seabed temporarily for any commercial photography or filming (e.g., cameras, tripods, props)

Authorization Permit Activities:

  • Maintenance dredging
  • Constructing or repairing marinas with ten or more slips
  • Any construction that has the potential to or will impact corals (e.g., seawall repairs, dock installation)
  • Beach renourishment