Three committees reviewing the rules of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are closing in on their formal recommendations.
The working groups -- Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection, the Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration and the Ecological Reserves and Wildlife Protection committee -- will meet next week to discuss and debate the recommendations.
The Sanctuary Advisory Council is undertaking a 10-year review of its rules and set up the working groups to look at various issues to determine if changes are needed.
The committees have been discussing such topics as setting aside areas to protect spawning fish and marine life, expanding the boundaries of the sanctuary and how to better protect boaters from disturbing and destroying seagrass.
Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton expects the Coral Reef Ecosystem and Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection groups to present their recommendations to the Sanctuary Advisory Council at its July meeting in Islamorada. The Ecological Reserves and Wildlife Protection group will most likely present its recommendation in August. A location for that meeting has yet to be set, Morton said.
"These meetings are open to the public and I urge everyone to attend," Morton said. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be part of the process. These meetings will build on each other until they reach the Sanctuary Advisory Council. It's a process, and we are moving step by step."
After the Sanctuary Advisory Council receives the recommendations, it will hold a series of public meetings in which the council will formalize the recommendations. It will then send them to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service and other state and federal fishery management agencies that make such rules.
Sanctuary and NOAA officials will also have to author an environmental impact study of the proposed changes that will be subject to public comment, too.
Morton does not expect the rules to be finalized until at least 2015, he said.
All three groups will meet at 9:30 a.m. on different days at the Marathon Garden Club, 5270 Overseas Highway. The Shallow Water Protection group will meet Tuesday; the Coral Reef Ecosystem group will meet Wednesday; and the Ecological Reserves and Wildlife Protection Working Group will meet Thursday.