FLORIDA KEYS, FLA — The Florida Keys are home to the 3,800 square mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the only coral barrier reef in the continental United States. It has come under threat recently, sparking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to complete the first comprehensive review in 25 years.
NOAA is using this review to establish a new blueprint to protect the keys. The blueprint for building back the ecosystem’s resilience so it better withstands the elements that cause its decline, form hurricanes, diseases, rising ocean temperatures, pollution, and people are all threats to the keys
“Some of them are honestly things we can’t control, like storm events, like global temperatures, like regional water quality threats,” said Sarah Fangman, the Superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. “That said there are things that we can do locally that can help these ecosystems be more resilient to those larger stressors. And that is what we are proposing to do.
Fangman says this can start the conversation to protect this national treasure.
“There is not a single silver bullet,” said Fangman. “A single solution that will address this. That is why the restoration blueprint that NOAA is proposing has a lot of different parts to it. A lot of different ways that we can protect, both by having regulations but also education.”
Doctor James Douglass, a professor of marine science at the FGCU Water School, says that coral in the Keys has been struggling for some time.
“The coral in the Florida Keys has been dying for decades,” said Dr. Douglass. “And now there is only less than 10% of the live coral in the Florida Keys than there was as recently as the 1980s.”
Dr. Douglass says he is happy to see the steps that NOAA is taking are science-based.
“A lot of scientists have been studying the health of the Florida Keys ecosystem,” said Dr. Douglass. “Finding out what is causing corals to die and what could bring them back. And noting where the damage is coming from. So, a lot of these proposed changes come directly from science and there is a lot of evidence that doing these things will help protect the reefs.”
Dr. Douglass adds that while these local changes will help, global impacts still need to be addressed like warming ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.
“If we lessen those local stressors that we have more control over, then we think the reefs will be able to survive global stressors a little better or at least be able to have a chance to fight back against those global stressors,” said Dr. Douglass.
NOAA’s blueprint is open for public input over the next 100 days. They will review and release the final rules later this year.