Long-time Sanctuary Staff Member Receives National Honor

December 2015

This week, Joanne Delaney, permit coordinator for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, was one of eight nationwide recipients awarded 2015 Team Member of the Year by NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

To those seeking a sanctuary permit, Delaney is the point person and her work bridges the gap between activities that are generally allowed in the sanctuary and those that are generally prohibited.

Photo of Joanne Delaney. (Left to right) Joanne Delaney (center), permit coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, accepts the National Ocean Service '2015 Team Member of the Year' award from National Ocean Service Acting Assistant Administrator Russell Callender (left) and Office of National Marine Sanctuary Acting Director John Armor (right). Click here for high resolution image.

“Joanne’s efficient collaboration and coordination is invaluable to supporting a variety of education, research, and management projects,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent.

As permit coordinator, Delaney leads the review of permit requests. She works with sanctuary staff and other experts to review proposed activities in order to evaluate potential impacts to the natural and historic marine resources of the Florida Keys. More often than not, permits spell out the specific conditions required to mitigate the risk of negative impacts.

Like many people, Delaney came to the Keys to explore new possibilities. A New Englander, she left a job as a high school biology teacher to join AmeriCorps for what she thought would be a short-term gig at the sanctuary. She started at the sanctuary in 1997, the year it was beginning to implement its management plan.

Delaney’s early work with the sanctuary focused on research to scientifically assess the effectiveness of the sanctuary’s network of marine zones. The sanctuary’s zoning system includes five types of zones, and was the first marine zoning network of its kind in the U.S. Over the years, Delaney said, the data showed marine life of all types rebounded within the protected areas – such as lobster, snapper, grouper, and many other reef fish.

Delaney’s knowledge of sanctuary science is matched by her in-depth understanding of its regulations. She has held numerous roles with the sanctuary over the years, serving as a research interpreter and educator, representing the sanctuary on the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, and assessing permit requests. For a time, she also supported NOAA international capacity-building programs, hosting visitors from around the world who came to the Keys to learn about marine protected area management.

Today, she focuses on permitting and reviewing regulatory issues and is recognized nationwide as an expert in marine resource protection issues associated with construction and restoration activities in a coral reef ecosystem.

“Permitting really grew over the years as other regulatory agencies began to realize the importance of consulting with the sanctuary about potential impacts of a wide variety of proposals, such as near-shore construction projects and artificial habitats,” said Delaney.

Joanne's collaborative approach and leadership have helped the sanctuary develop and maintain strong working relationships with other agencies that share permitting and oversight of proposed activities that can affect sanctuary resources including U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Florida Department of Transportation.

In 2015 alone, Delaney processed over 400 permits, enabling research, education, baitfish fishing and lionfish removal. Joanne has also worked with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to establish consultation protocols ensuring that research and monitoring activities of coral species listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List is aligned with recovery goals and aids in management of those listed species. She is supporting the marine zoning and regulatory review by compiling 18 years’ worth of data on permitting and developing a vision for adaptive management of sanctuary resources.

Still, the highlight of her career, according to Delaney, was the Tortugas 2000 process, which brought together fisherman and other ocean users to explore options for protecting the coral reefs and fish spawning aggregations in the Tortugas region. The result was the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, the largest marine protected area in the United States at the time it was created. It is widely recognized as a success for the rebounds in fish and shrimp that have been observed, without significant socio-economic impacts to commercial fisherman.

“Congratulations to Joanne for receiving this significant award,” said Morton, “Her knowledge, communication skills and exemplary dedication to the sanctuary help protect the Keys’ resources.”

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats, as well as shipwrecks and maritime heritage resources. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us at http://floridakeys.noaa.gov, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.