November 6, 2019

Having witnessed the destruction of the grouper/snapper fishery by NOAA occupation of Florida state waters and subsequent introduction of fish traps back in 1978 (as I remember), I am generally distrustful of federal intervention in state matters.

However, protecting the living coral reef here in the Florida Keys is something we should all be supportive of, and hopefully, we can all agree upon.

So, I offer three simple measures that I believe will immeasurably benefit both the environment and quality of life for both Keys residents and the occupants beneath our waters.

1) Eliminate the crazy lobster mini-season in all federal waters. Those few days of the year generate more resource depletion and coral damage than any other time. The state should enact a similar measure.

2) Keep placing shipwrecks and concrete structure in open sand areas. Not only put artificial reefs in deep water but the 30- to 50-foot range as well. Each thoughtfully located wreck or properly designed and placed artificial reef becomes an oasis in the sea, thus, generating new life and alternative dive and fishing sites away from the present reef areas. Recently, NOAA established the largest shipwreck graveyard in the Western Hemisphere at Mallows Bay on the Potomac River as a federal sanctuary and park. This is testimony enough of the long-term environmental value of shipwrecks, especially when sensibly situated.

3) There is a need to avoid anchor damage to our coral reef ecosystem and grass beds. Kudos to the designers, installers and maintainers of our current mooring buoys. More are needed. That means more money must flow into that part of the budget. So, yes, generally, anchoring in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary might not be permitted, but larger vessels (maybe over 26 feet) should be allowed to secure anchoring permits to be boldly displayed on the boat after passing a half-day anchor education course and paying an appropriate fee to go into the mooring ball program. Smaller boats can easily hold a fixed position now with the GPS bow-mounted electric trolling trolling motors. Also, fines from boats anchored illegally or doing assessed damage to the coral or grass beds should also fund the mooring ball system.

Hopefully, these few suggestions will help deliver some common-sense solutions. We should do what is practical and necessary to deliver a thriving coral reef to future generations.

Capt. Larry Jarboe, Key Largo