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  • This week on Waterways;

  • Marine Zones and the Tortugas Ecological Reserve.

  • The Florida Keys.

  • This picturesque string of islands conjures up images of

  • swaying palms trees and unforgettable sunsets,

  • yet it is most famous for the attractions

  • beneath the water line.

  • The Keys are home to the world's third largest,

  • and North America's only, barrier coral reef.

  • Novice snorkelers and experienced SCUBA divers come

  • from around the globe to discover the awe-inspiring

  • beauty of the Keys reef which stretches from north of Key

  • Largo west through the Dry Tortugas.

  • The coral reef ecosystem, with its seagrass flats and mangrove

  • fringed islands, also supports a robust recreational fishing

  • industry and almost 13 million pounds of commercial seafood

  • landed annually in Monroe County.

  • Keys waters are diverse, abundant,

  • and seemingly limitless.

  • But a calm sea can often hide trouble below the surface.

  • Despite the aura of endlessness,

  • the waters of the Keys are fragile.

  • Finite.

  • And they have a long history of human influence.

  • The Keys have changed immensely over the past century.

  • To accommodate trains, and later cars, island passes were filled

  • and new islands were created, literally reshaping the Keys.

  • To satisfy demand for waterfront property and accommodate a

  • growing population, more than 124 miles of canals were dredged

  • from the islands a length almost as long as the entire

  • Overseas Highway!

  • During the development boom of the 1950s through 70s, many

  • acres of tropical hardwood hammocks in the Florida Keys

  • were cleared to provide land for housing and commercial

  • development, and more than 50 percent of the historic mangrove

  • habitat was eliminated.

  • Over the last century, the Keys have been subject to over

  • fishing of grouper, sea turtles, and queen conch, resulting in

  • the listing of these species as endangered or protected.

  • And since the 1970s, the Keys marine ecosystem has experienced

  • mass die offs of important species:

  • long-spined sea urchins from disease,

  • and branching corals such as elkhorn and

  • staghorn from disease, bleaching and hurricanes.

  • In 1960, to address the declines in Keys coral reefs, John

  • Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established off Key Largo as

  • the world's first underwater park.

  • Continued environmental concerns prompted the designation of Key

  • Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975 and Looe Key National

  • Marine Sanctuary in 1981.

  • However, even after these sanctuaries were established,

  • pollution, overfishing, physical impacts, and user conflicts

  • continued to occur.

  • And throughout the 80s we started seeing all sorts of

  • impacts on our coral reefs.

  • We started seeing degraded water quality; we were seeing

  • increases in use of the resources; we were seeing more

  • and more boaters in the Keys and we were seeing more and more

  • inexperienced boaters in the Keys.

  • And that was resulting in a lot of vessel grounding on the

  • shallow reefs, on the seagrasses.

  • Mounting threats to the health and future of the coral reef

  • ecosystem in the Florida Keys would then prompt Congress to

  • take action to further protect this fragile natural resource,

  • one of the nation's great underwater treasures.

  • Following three major ship groundings within seventeen

  • days, in October and November of 1989, Congressman Dante Fascell

  • from Florida worked with Senator Bob Graham to craft the Florida

  • Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act.

  • And in November of 1990 President Bush signed into law

  • the first congressionally designated sanctuary.

  • The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

  • This new sanctuary incorporated the preexisting Key Largo and

  • Looe Key sanctuaries to protect 2,800 square nautical miles of

  • spectacular, unique, and nationally

  • significant marine resources.

  • The sanctuary is home to the world's third largest barrier

  • reef, extensive seagrass beds, more than 1,700 mangrove-fringed

  • islands, and more than 6,000 species of marine life.

  • It also preserves a part of our nation's history with countless

  • shipwrecks and other archeological treasures.

  • This ecosystem is the marine equivalent of a tropical rain

  • forest.

  • It supports high levels of biological diversity, but is

  • fragile and easily susceptible to damage from human activities.

  • But one thing that was really key to this particular sanctuary

  • is that Congress directed NOAA to consider spatial and temporal

  • zoning to better ensure the protection of Sanctuary

  • resources.

  • Marine zoning.

  • Just as areas of land may be set aside for specific uses, so too

  • can parts of the ocean.

  • Marine zones can help protect sensitive natural resources from

  • overuse, separate conflicting uses, and preserve the diversity

  • of life and the integrity of habitat.

  • In 1997, after numerous public meetings, workshops, and

  • extensive public input, the sanctuary implemented its first

  • management plan, which included the country's first

  • comprehensive marine zoning plan.

  • Later, in 2001, after an additional public process, the

  • sanctuary boundary was expanded slightly and the Tortugas

  • Ecological Reserve was added to the zone plan.

  • Today, the sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles and

  • employs five different zone types,

  • each with a specific purpose.

  • [Sound of teletype]

  • Our sanctuary preservation areas are our smaller zones.

  • They are set aside to heavily used areas, like the top of Looe

  • Key Reef for example, where you have tens of thousands of divers

  • every year that want to go and see the spectacular coral reefs

  • but they don't necessarily want to compete with spear fishermen,

  • with marine life collectors, or boats trolling over them.

  • [Sound of teletype]

  • The second type of no-take area are the research-only areas.

  • This is a special marine zoning type that we've established in

  • this sanctuary to set aside areas for research,

  • research only.

  • [Sound of teletype]

  • So by having the existing management areas,

  • we not only recognized their authority and their jurisdiction

  • and the rules and regulations that exist through other

  • entities but we also complement them by providing sanctuary

  • regulations that they can use in their areas.

  • So together we integrate our management in the existing

  • management areas.

  • [Sound of teletype]

  • Wildlife management areas.

  • Bird rookeries, bird nesting areas, turtle beaches;

  • there are some really special resources

  • surrounding the Florida Keys.

  • What we have done with the wildlife management areas is set

  • a buffer around many of the islands where most of them are

  • restricted as far as vessel use.

  • [Sound of teletype]

  • The fifth and largest type of zone used by

  • the Sanctuary are Ecological Reserves.

  • Ecological Reserves protect an entire range of marine habitats;

  • protecting natural spawning, nursery, and permanent-residence

  • areas needed for sustainable populations of marine life,

  • and the coral reef community.

  • A lot of people think that the larger ecological reserves will

  • benefit fisheries in various ways, but we set them aside to

  • protect the biodiversity of the area.

  • We want to protect the food, the home, the habitat, of all the

  • recreationally and commercially important species, but also the

  • little blennies and gobies that just make a living there.

  • Parceling areas of water for specific uses is a task not

  • taken lightly or quickly.

  • The creation of new conservation strategies and marine zones

  • takes place through a public process that can take years.

  • During this time, the sanctuary and its advisory council

  • consider scientific research and community input, as well as how

  • these new rules would affect the environment and the economy.

  • The last thing we did there was draw lines on maps, not the

  • first thing.

  • But we spent a lot of time educating or explaining what we

  • knew, and didn't know; we had oceanographers, we had fishermen

  • talk about their experience and what they catch and where they

  • catch it and what areas they need.

  • We had lobstermen; we had recreational anglers; we had

  • divers; we had conversation orientated type people, these

  • are the things they wanted and then we set some criteria and

  • actually the last thing they did was develop the reserves.

  • It turned out to be two hundred square miles which is huge and

  • at the time the largest no-take areas in the United States.

  • With the creation of the sanctuary's network of

  • marine zones in 1997, and the addition of the Tortugas

  • Ecological Reserve in 2001, the real work had only just begun.

  • I think whenever you tell people that they can no longer go to a

  • location and do what they have traditionally done, you're going

  • to meet with resistance.

  • That's human nature and should be expected.

  • And I think that when we do that we owe it to the public, to

  • those people impacted by the management decisions to show

  • that those decisions were wise.

  • To prove the decisions were wise, there would need to be a

  • comparison of research from before and after the

  • implementation of marine zones.

  • These research projects help determine whether the marine

  • zones are meeting their intended goals, and whether Ecological

  • Reserves are succeeding in protecting habitat

  • and biodiversity.

  • Some zone monitoring projects compare how much coral is

  • present inside and outside a marine zone and how that level

  • has changed over the years.

  • Other researchers look at reef fish, and how their size and

  • populations might differ inside a zone or outside.

  • Results from these studies help sanctuary managers understand

  • how to better utilize marine zones to protect the special

  • resources of the Florida Keys.

  • Coral reefs are integrated ecosystems that depend both on

  • fish and how much seaweed they eat and the predators they eat;

  • the organisms that live on the bottom as well as the actual

  • animals and plants that live on the bottom themselves.

  • The balance between the amount of coral that's out there, the

  • amount of seaweed and the amount of bare space is telling you

  • about the health of the reef.

  • The good news is that the amounts of seaweed, which is on

  • the bottom in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is

  • actually quite low, and it's among the lowest around the

  • Caribbean.

  • And that is probably because of the protections that are

  • afforded to fish that eat those seaweeds; particularly two kinds

  • of fish called parrotfish and surgeonfish.

  • The results that we've been coming up with and the results

  • of other studies that are running in tandem with ours are

  • telling us that the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is

  • effective.

  • It's got more fish and less seaweed than a lot of places

  • around the Caribbean and that is a perfect concoction to recover

  • the corals in the Keys Sanctuary and in particular in the Marine

  • Protected Areas within the Keys.

  • Coral reefs, because they are slow growing and affected by so

  • many factors, take longer to show a response to marine zone

  • protection.

  • Fish, on the other hand, respond more quickly to protection and

  • through long-term monitoring scientists have been able to

  • more quickly detect changes in their populations.

  • Much of this research has been focused on the sanctuary's crown

  • jewel The Tortugas Ecological Reserve, located more than 70

  • miles west of Key West, is separated into North and South.

  • Entrance into Tortugas South is limited to permitted

  • researchers, and access to Tortugas North is controlled

  • through a simple, no-fee permit.

  • This 151-square-nautical-mile reserve is closed to all

  • consumptive use, including fishing and anchoring.

  • More than 400 species of reef fish live here, including all

  • species of grouper; and the coral here is healthier and more

  • abundant than anywhere else in the Florida Keys.Fishing and

  • anchoring are prohibited to help preserve biodiversity and

  • protect coral reef habitats.

  • I think that the Tortugas Banks are really an important part of

  • America's heritage.

  • It's one of the truly tropical ecosystems that we have in the

  • United States.

  • The marine reserve it's an ecosystem management approach.

  • You're trying to not just address one fish species or one

  • coral species; you're trying to improve the health of the whole

  • ecosystem by taking pressure off that area and giving it a chance

  • to function like it would if it was left on its own.

  • Since 1999 two years before the reserve's establishment

  • scientists from the University of Miami and NOAA Fisheries, and

  • more recently the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation

  • Commission and other institutions, have been

  • conducting surveys of Tortugas reef fish to study how zone

  • protection affects certain fish.

  • Together, scientists have undertaken thousands of scuba

  • dives to collect information on reef fish size, species,

  • abundance and habitat preference.

  • The Tortugas Ecological Reserve has had a quite dramatic impact