A marine reserve will help protect the incredible resources of Biscayne for the benefit of all Americans, now and for generations to come.
If you go swimming in the sparkling blue waters of Biscayne National Park, teeming with a rainbow of fish, bottlenose dolphins, endangered hawksbill turtles and other marine life, you may think you are vacationing on a remote, far-flung island.
Sadly, the last few decades have taken a toll on the coral reef and fish populations at Biscayne National Park — but it isn’t too late to reverse the damage. After years of declining health for corals and fish species, the National Park Service announced plans in June 2015 to create a no-fishing marine reserve in the park — a positive step toward recovery.
While the reserve would cover only a small percentage of the park’s waters, it stands to make a major impact on the health of the marine environment, all while still allowing for visitors to swim, boat, snorkel and dive in the area. The public widely supports the marine reserve, but for more than a year lawmakers have introduced a slew of legislation designed to block the creation of the reserve. Harmful bills currently in Congress could prevent the implementation of the marine reserve and interfere with the Park Service’s mission to protect remarkable habitat and wildlife of our national parks, in Biscayne and other coastal national parks around the country. NPCA adamantly opposes these bills.
If the marine reserve is not soon enacted, it may be too late for remaining coral reefs and fish populations to recover. The Obama administration must deliver on its promise to establish the marine reserve while it still can. Biscayne’s beautiful but severely threatened coral reef ecosystem cannot afford to wait.
Biscayne National Park is a national treasure and 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 United States. 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 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 overfishing, overuse, 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 to 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 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 amounts 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 — 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. The park supports a variety of economic and recreational activities, such as fishing, diving, boating and snorkeling. In 2014, over half a million visitors to Biscayne National Park spent more than $32 million and sustained nearly 460 jobs in the local area. This 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.
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.
Tell NPS to support a marine reserve at Biscayne.
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