June 12, 2019

MARATHON — Reports on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s underwater ecosystem and how people use it will be presented in a June 18 meeting in Marathon.

The day-long Sanctuary Advisory Council session starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Hyatt Place Faro Blanco Resort also may include an announcement of when the sanctuary’s management plan update, called the Restoration Blueprint, will be released.

A tentative timeline points to an August release of the plan, which began with a worrisome “conditions report” in 2011. Staff changes, a major hurricane and other issues delayed the draft plan’s unveiling until this year.

“I really and truly believe we are at an important turning point in the future of the Florida Keys,” sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman says in a video posted at the sanctuary website. “We have a lot of challenges so we need to work exceptionally hard, harder than we’ve ever worked before, to come together more than we ever have, all to address these challenges. So that when history is written about this place it’s, wow, people really came together and made a difference.”

Coral disease, pollution, rising ocean temperatures, invasive species and hurricanes rank among dire concerns.

“Now it’s time to do even more to respond to threats and better protect and even restore natural resources,” a narrator says in a video at floridakeys.noaa.gov.

When the draft management plan and its environmental impact statement are released, they are expected to include a range of alternatives for regulations and possible boundary changes for protected areas. A series of public comment sessions will take place over the following months.

State elected officials and agency representatives also will weigh in on the proposals.

A report on the current state of Restoration Blueprint is slated for 2:30 p.m. at the June 18 meeting in Marathon. A public comment session follows at 3 p.m.

Other topics at the Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting:

• Reports on “human-use indicators” in a Florida Keys Integrated Ecosystem Assessment, a conditions assessment on “marine life and habitat indicators” and a socioeconomic study of the Florida Keys.

• Connections between Keys coral reefs and Pulley Ridge, a deep underwater reef about 100 miles west of the Dry Tortugas, will be reviewed by marine biologist Peter Ortner of the University of Miami.

• Update reports from federal and state marine agencies, including the U.S. Navy and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

kwadlow@keysnews.com