Press Release Dec 17, 2020

Parks Group Files Lawsuit to Protect Biscayne National Park

The Park Service must establish a marine reserve and phase out commercial fishing in order to protect resources at Biscayne National Park. NPCA will hold them accountable. 

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the National Park Service for their failure to adequately protect Biscayne National Park’s coral reef ecosystem and other marine resources. The legal challenge addresses the agencies’ failure to create a marine reserve and phase out commercial fishing in the park.

The health of Biscayne’s marine wildlife and habitat, particularly its coral reef ecosystem, has been on the decline for decades. Local threats like overfishing and overuse combined with stressors like coral bleaching, coral disease, and pollution have taken a serious toll on the park. Many reef fish species in Biscayne are overfished, with some literally on the verge of collapse. Intensive fishing and the impacts of fishing gear on reefs have also contributed to the decline of Biscayne’s coral reefs, which provide important habitat to wildlife like lobsters, reef fish, and sea turtles, which are also sharply declining in health. Today, there is less living coral reef in Biscayne than ever recorded.

Over many years, divers, boaters and world-renowned anglers have witnessed the decline in Biscayne’s iconic reefs firsthand. This decline threatens the health and sustainability of Biscayne’s irreplaceable marine ecosystems, as well as the multi-million dollar tourist economy that the park supports in South Florida.

After more than 15 years of rigorous public debate, the National Park Service decided on a plan of action to protect the park’s marine wildlife and habitat. The plan included creating a marine reserve and phasing out commercial fishing in the park. In 2014, the Park Service signed a Record of Decision announcing their plan to institute a permitting system to gradually phase out commercial fishing in the park, allowing those currently fishing commercially to continue but preventing new commercial fishing operations from becoming established. In 2015, the Park Service signed a separate Record of Decision that called for the establishment of a no-fishing marine reserve covering only 6% of the park’s 173,000 acres. The Park Service determined these steps were necessary to protecting Biscayne National Park’s natural resources.

However, years later, DOI and the Park Service have failed to act in accordance with the law by unreasonably delaying and failing to implement these actions that they themselves deemed necessary for park protection. The Park Service must establish a marine reserve and phase out commercial fishing in order to protect resources at Biscayne National Park.

NPCA is represented in the litigation by the law firm of Arnold & Porter.

Statement of Dr. Melissa Abdo, Sun Coast Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association:

“Decades ago, Biscayne National Park’s coral reefs were healthy and colorful, teeming with fish. Today’s reality is much different.

“Because of the Park Service’s failure to act, overfishing has led to the severe decline of many reef fish species and the degradation of Biscayne’s marine environment. This damage is leaving Biscayne’s coral reef ecosystem less resilient to climate change, coral bleaching, coral disease, and pollution. Without decisive action, this decline could spell ruin for the park’s coral reef ecosystem and an integral part of South Florida’s thriving tourist economy.

“Biscayne is a national park, the underwater equivalent of Yosemite, and as a national park its current state is simply unacceptable. That’s why NPCA, along with recreational fishers, boaters, divers and park lovers from all over the country, is calling for the Park Service to create a small marine reserve area in the park and gradually phase out commercial fishing. The Park Service already made a commitment to the public to take these specific actions. They put it in writing. Yet after all this time, they have failed to act, even as conditions worsen within the park.

“The Park Service is bound by law to protect our most valuable natural and cultural resources that belong to all of us. We will hold them accountable, so that current and future generations have the opportunity to experience the underwater treasures protected by America’s largest marine national park.”

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About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org

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