ISLAMORADA -- Closing some sandbars to raft-up parties, expanding coral restoration programs and creating user fees for charter boats are among the recommendations set to go before the Sanctuary Advisory Council in July.
Two Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary working groups are wrapping up their recommended changes to the sanctuary management plan. The sanctuary and the federal wildlife refuge managers in the Keys are conducting a 10-year review and update of their regulations and policies.
All changes would have to be approved by the Sanctuary Advisory Council and sanctuary managers and be part of an environmental and economic impact report. The changes also would require additional public meetings.
The Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration and the Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection working groups will formally present their recommendations to the Sanctuary Advisory Council on July 9. The meeting will be held at the Islander Resort in Islamorada.
The coral reef group is proposing the sanctuary adopt rules that expand and encourage coral nurseries, coral replanting areas and other habitat restoration projects already occurring in the Keys.
The restoration projects could be further funded through user fees for charter fishing and dive boats and mooring buoy sponsorship programs, according to the group's recommendations
The group also encouraged the sanctuary to develop "reef etiquette" programs and "dive proficiency testing or minimal certification levels," the group's recommendations state.
Such rules and sponsorship programs have already been adopted in other Caribbean countries and countries and communities with coral reefs, such as Bonaire, said Dave Vaughan and Ken Nedimyer, who are co-chairs of the working group.
Both Vaughan and Nedimyer have done work and dived in Bonaire and support the country's rules on check-out dives and etiquette classes. The country also charges user fees for diving on the reef.
"It's actually a great program," Vaughan said. "The money from the fees goes back into research and programs that support the reef."
The Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection group has identified several sandbars it would like to see set aside because they are regularly trampled by boaters partying there. Rodriguez Key in the Upper Keys is among the sandbars proposed for closure.