Coral Reef Protection in Biscayne National Park

Last Updated: March 18, 2015

Biscayne’s Threatened Coral Reef Habitat Needs Your Help!

Coral Reefs: Cradles of Biodiversity

Coral reefs are home to some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet and are the breeding and feeding grounds for about one third of all marine life. The stunning array of bright colors, shapes, and exotic creatures found on our reefs offer visitors a unique experience to discover an incredible underwater world. As they have for centuries, humans continue to rely on the resources and services provided by coral reefs, which are of tremendous economic, cultural, and ecological value.

Unfortunately, coral reefs the world over are in a dramatic state of decline. In addition to overfishing and overexploitation, the drastic reduction in reef fish populations is linked to degrading coral reef habitat. We must act now  in order to ensure the future survival of these invaluable coral reef ecosystems.

Coral reef health and fish populations in Biscayne National Park have been on the decline for decades due to over-fishing and over-use, leaving some species populations on the verge of collapse. Newly proposed updates to the park’s management plan fail to protect these incredible natural resources--and we need your help!

Join NPCA in our efforts to create a “no-take” marine reserve that would prohibit fishing in areas where the park’s unique coral reef habitat is severely threatened. Marine reserves provide protection for entire coral reef ecosystems and their inhabitants while also providing valuable recreational opportunities for snorkelers and divers.

Your voice is needed to tell park managers that they must take stronger action to protect park resources and that a marine reserve is necessary to protect Biscayne National Park’s endangered coral reef ecosystems.

Why We Need a Marine Reserve:

  • Marine reserves are based on science. They protect coral reef ecosystems and fish populations and can create better fishing opportunities when increased numbers of fish “spill over” into areas outside the reserve.
  • They reduce impacts from marine debris and damage to coral reefs from boat groundings and anchors.
  • A marine reserve would provide an area within Biscayne National Park where other types of recreation use—such as diving, snorkeling, swimming, and boating—can be enjoyed without interference from other activities
  • Biscayne National Park is a national park and as such must be held to higher standards than surrounding areas.
  • Other alternatives put forward do not provide enough protection for Biscayne’s severely threatened coral reef ecosystems. A marine reserve is the only way for the park to comply with the legal mandates by which it should be managed.


Biscayne National Park is in the process of updating its General Management Plan (GMP), which will guide park management over the next 20 years. The park originally proposed a marine reserve, or an area that does not allow fishing or resource extraction, as a tool to protect 7% of the park. Despite nationwide public support and strong scientific evidence that marine reserves are successful at increasing the size and diversity of fish species, the Park Service revoked its recommendation for a marine reserve when faced with opposition from fishing groups and the State of Florida.

In 2013, the NPS released a Supplemental Draft GMP that outlined two additional alternatives for protecting the park’s coral reef ecosystem, termed Special Recreation Zones (SRZs).  Unfortunately, the SRZs are not based on sound science and fail to protect Biscayne’s degraded coral habitat and reef fish populations. More protection is needed that would be achieved through the creation of a marine reserve.

What is a Marine Reserve?

A marine reserve is a “no-take,” or no fishing area that restores marine ecosystem health and biodiversity and protects wildlife and habitat. Marine reserves work. Just five years after the creation of a marine reserve in Dry Tortugas National Park, approximately 70 miles west of Key West, studies show the marine reserve provides significant protection to coral reef ecosystems. The marine reserve in Dry Tortugas is a “no-take,” no anchoring zone designed to protect shallow water habitats and coral reef species. A 2012 report shows more and larger fish with increased spawning rates within the reserve, including red grouper, mutton snapper, and yellowtail snapper. In contrast, the number and size of the same species outside the reserve have remained the same or declined.
The creation of a marine reserve would help ensure the conservation of Biscayne’s incredible marine resources for the benefit of Americans for generations.

How to Get Involved:

Your voice is needed to tell the Park Service that the public is invested in conservation and cares about the future of Biscayne’s resources. For more information about how you can contact decision-makers to express your support for the creation of a marine reserve, contact:

Caroline McLaughlin
Biscayne Program Analyst
Sun Coast Region
Phone: (954) 961-1280

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