Three Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary sub-committees working on the sanctuary's management plan review will begin meeting this week.
The Sanctuary Advisory Council is doing a 10-year review of its rules and has established three working groups to look at different aspects and issues of the sanctuary to determine if the rules need to be changed. The working groups are the Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection, the Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration and the Ecological Reserves and Wildlife Protection committee.
The Shallow Water Protection group will meet at 9:30 a.m. today at the Marathon Garden Club.
The Shallow Water Protection committee discusses rules dealing with the protection of hard-bottom areas and seagrass beds, as they provide important feeding and nursery grounds for numerous fish and protected species. These shallow areas are particularly vulnerable to impacts from small vessels, and are frequently damaged by boat propellers, anchors and more.
Sanctuary rules seek to minimize disturbance to sensitive or endangered wildlife and their habitats while allowing for public use. Rules include closed areas and no-motor, idle-speed and no-wake zones.
The Coral Reef Ecosystem group will meet at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Marathon Garden Club. The group will focus its efforts on reviewing rules for coral reef protection.
Coral health in the sanctuary has declined over the past several decades because of coastal development, pollution, overfishing, vessel groundings, storms and coral disease and bleaching. In recent years, great strides have been made to grow corals in underwater nurseries for the purpose of restoring reefs. The sanctuary has permitted coral restoration efforts inside and outside protected zones, and while no area currently exists for intensive restoration efforts, the sanctuary's original management plan considered utilizing marine zoning to achieve this purpose.
The Ecological Reserves and Wildlife Protection Working Group will meet March 14. An exact location has yet to be announced.