Protecting Biscayne's Coral Reefs

Last Updated: July 22, 2015

Protecting Biscayne's Coral Reefs

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Biscayne National Park is a national treasure and is one of our country’s largest marine national parks. Home to part of the third largest barrier reef tract in the world, Biscayne protects some of the only living coral within the continental U.S. However, the health of the park’s reefs and fisheries has declined dramatically in recent years. The National Park Service, after more than 15 years of planning, has announced plans to create a marine reserve in Biscayne National Park to  protect the park’s ailing reefs and help bring back more fish to Florida.

Biscayne National Park is protects some of our country’s most incredible, yet severely threatened coral reefs. The declining health of Biscayne’s marine resources is the result of  decades of over-fishing, over-use, water pollution, and warming seas. Population growth in South Florida has come with problems. The number of recreational fishing vessels in South Florida grew by about 757% from 1964-2014. Advances in technology have quadrupled the efficiency of recreational anglers, putting huge amounts of pressure on fish populations. For every 20 fish caught back in 1960, only one fish is caught today. If someone were chopping down Redwood trees or giant Sequoias in our national parks, there would be a public outcry. The same should be true here in Biscayne, where our iconic coral reefs and marine life are on the verge of collapse. It is clear that something must be done to protect the resources of Biscayne National Park.

Marine reserves are areas that prohibit fishing and the extraction of resources. They provide protection for coral reefs and their inhabitants while also creating valuable visitor experiences for divers and snorkelers. The marine reserve created in Biscayne National Park is small— just 6% of a park that is 95% water—but it will have a big impact.

Why 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 “spillover” into areas outside the reserve.
  • They reduce impacts from marine debris and damage to coral reefs from boat groundings and anchors.
  • A marine reserve will provide an area within Biscayne National Park where certain 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 management alternatives do not provide enough protection for Biscayne’s severely threatened coral reef ecosystem. A marine reserve is the only way for the park to comply with the legal mandates that govern how it should be managed.

Marine reserves in the Dry Tortugas, located just 70 miles off the shores of Key West, provide significant protection to coral reef ecosystems. A 2012 report, completed just years after the reserves were implemented, showed evidence of more and larger fish with increased spawning rates within the reserve, including red grouper, mutton snapper, and yellowtail snapper. Furthermore, according to an economic valuation study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, no financial losses were reported by regional commercial or recreational fishers.

Creating a marine reserve in Biscayne National Park will help to ensure the future sustainability of its resources. Biscayne National Park is a significant economic driver for the state and the region and healthy coral reefs and fish stocks are at the heart of it. Supporting a variety of economic and recreational activities, such as fishing, diving, boating, and snorkeling, over half a million visitors to Biscayne National Park spent more that $32 million and sustained nearly 460 jobs in he local area. Park visitation had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of nearly $45 million. The viability of these economic activities depends closely on the health of the reefs.

Join NPCA in celebrating and thanking the National Park Service for a huge victory for our national parks, resulting from more than 15 years of advocacy by NPCA and our members and supporters. Throughout this process, more than 20,000 NPCA supporters lent their voices in support of the creation of a marine reserve—and our efforts paid off!

By announcing the creation of a marine reserve in Biscayne National Park, the National Park Service showed leadership and a strong commitment to the future of our national parks. The creation of a marine reserve will help to protect the incredible resources of Biscayne for the benefit of all Americans, now and for generations to come.

For more information contact:

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

Support for a Marine Reserve

Check out these additional resources documenting broad-based support for the creation of a marine reserve in Biscayne National Park.

Take Action

Help us thank the Park Service for its leadership and commitment to the future of our national parks. Tell NPS Director Jon Jarvis that you support a marine reserve for healthy coral reefs and to help bring more fish back to Florida!

Take Action

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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.

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