Last Updated: March 28, 2013
Establishing a Marine Reserve
What is a Marine Reserve?
A Marine Reserve is an effective management tool that helps to restore and sustain the health, productivity and biological diversity of coral reefs by limiting fishing and other types of resource harvesting from designated areas. Marine Reserves also provide scientists the unique opportunity to assess the impact of human activity on the marine ecosystem while providing wildlife a respite from extractive pressures.
A 2012 report of the five years of research at the Marine Reserve in Dry Tortugas National Park, approximately 70 miles west of Key West, illustrates that Marine Reserves do sustain coral reef and sea grass ecosystems. The Marine Reserve in Dry Tortugas is a “no-take,” no-anchoring reserve of 46-square miles to protect shallow water habitats and coral reef species. The report indicates more and larger fish with increased spawning rates within the reserve, including red groupers, mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper and hogfish. By contrast, neighboring non-reserve areas showed stagnant or decreased levels and size of fish.
Why we need a Marine Reserve in Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park, the largest marine park in the national park system, is considered an urban national park because of its close proximity to Miami. As the city’s population has grown, so have the pressures on the finite natural resources of the park. Biscayne faces a number of natural and man-made threats including overfishing, increased numbers and capacities of fishing boats, worsening water quality, invasive species and climate change. These pressures have strained the park’s mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass meadows, which are primary habitat for marine wildlife. Particularly, overfishing poses an ongoing threat to the park’s reefs. For example, recreational fishing increased 444% from 1964 to 1998. Technology has quadrupled the “fishing power” of recreational and commercial anglers. A 2001 study commissioned by the park indicated that its ecosystem is in the worst shape of all the Florida Keys, and that the status of reef fish resources signaled future collapse. Some areas outside Biscayne have been noted as even better protected than areas within the park.
Marine Reserves work to restore coral reefs and improve fishing. Establishing a Marine Reserve within Biscayne as part of its General Management Plan would inform management decisions regarding the health of the park and help protect, better manage and restore its coral reefs. Specifically, a Marine Reserve in the park would lead to significant species diversity and increased number and size of fish. It would also ensure that Biscayne’s natural resources are conserved and left unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
A Marine Reserve follows the federal legal framework for ecosystem management
Coral reef protection is addressed specifically in federal law (16 U.S.C. § 6401). The purpose of the law is to preserve, restore and conserve coral reefs, as well as promote wise coral reef management and the development of sound scientific data regarding its conditions and threats. The statute establishing Biscayne as a National Park (16 U.S.C. § 410gg) requires that waters within the park remain open to fishing except where the Secretary of the Department of the Interior otherwise decides. Clearly, establishing a Marine Reserve within Biscayne would follow the spirit of the law governing national parks and ecosystem management.
Marine Reserve only 7% of Biscayne National Park
The proposed 10,522-acre Marine Reserve in the preferred alternative in the park’s management plan draft would account for only 7% of the park and 30% of its coral reef track. This leaves 70% of the coral reefs and approximately 151,000 acres of Biscayne’s waters open to fishing. The map below shows the coverage of the park’s preferred plan (Alternative 4) and the larger reserve proposal (Alternative 5). A Marine Reserve like the one below would optimize scientific data collection, benefit local business and offer enhanced visitor experiences. Locals support establishing a Marine Reserve. The scuba diving industry welcomes it because the biological diversity would provide a high-quality diving and snorkeling experience.
Fishermen have also recognized that there are few fish of legal size remaining in park waters. The message is clear: concerned citizens want to ensure their grandchildren can experience the nation’s largest marine park.
For more information:
John Adornato III
Regional Director of Sun Coast Office
Phone: (954) 961-1280