Press Release Jun 5, 2015

Victory! New Marine Reserve at Biscayne National Park to Protect Coral Reefs and Replenish Fish Populations

National Park Service announces creation of a marine reserve in Biscayne National Park.

Homestead, FL – Today, after more than a decade of planning, scientific analysis and an extensive public process, the National Park Service announced the creation of a marine reserve within Biscayne National Park as part of the park’s final General Management Plan. With 95 percent of the national park as water, around six percent will be included as a marine reserve to protect the park’s threatened coral reefs, help restore dwindling fish populations and improve the visitor experience.

“Although the marine reserve only covers a small portion of the park, it will have a big impact on the health of Biscayne,” said Caroline McLaughlin, Biscayne program analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Marine reserves are one of the best, most effective ways to protect the park’s ailing reefs and to help bring more fish back to Florida, increasing fish size, diversity, and abundance. This decision has been a long time coming and we are thrilled that after more than 15 years of advocating for protection for our coral reefs, this day has finally come.”

Unfortunately, Biscayne has been overfished and over-stressed for decades with the park’s renowned coral reefs and fish populations in a steady state of decline. The reserve area once flourished with native species like gray snapper and black grouper, however both are presently at historic lows for abundance – these species are rarely seen and typically undersized when they are spotted. In fact, recent studies show that a majority of snapper and grouper caught in the park are below state, federal, and international standards for sustainability.

“I have witnessed firsthand, the degradation of our coral reefs, and the depletion of our fisheries, said Jack Curlett, an avid angler and member of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “I’ve been fishing in Biscayne National Park waters for more than 30 years and the days of plentiful fish are gone. If we don’t take steps now to improve these conditions, there won’t be fish left for not only us, but our children and grandchildren. Marine reserves work. They help protect marine habitat and can improve local fishing opportunities when larger, more abundant fish “spill over” into areas outside the reserve.”

South Florida is a world renowned fishing and boating destination, and is home to incredible marine wildlife and coral reef habitat. There is a clear relationship between a healthy coral reef ecosystem, healthy fish populations, and Florida’s tourism economy, which are all closely connected. Biscayne National Park is a significant economic driver for the region, with more than half a million park visitors that support 460 local jobs and pump $45 million into the local economy. Economic and recreational activities such as fishing, boating, diving, and snorkeling are dependent upon healthy coral reefs and healthy fish stocks.

“Visitors to our national parks expect to see the highest quality conditions when there – the aquatic equivalent of Yellowstone,” added McLaughlin. “Marine reserves across the world and just 70 miles south near Key West at Dry Tortugas National Park show significant success in protecting marine resources. After just five years of implementing a marine reserve at Dry Tortugas, studies have shown significant increases in the size and abundance of once overfished species. We hope to see similar results here at Biscayne.”

As part of the third largest barrier reef tract in the world, Biscayne National Park is the largest marine park in the National Park System and protects some of the only living reef in the continental United States. Located just outside Miami in Homestead, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, Biscayne is a national treasure and provides visitors with a unique underwater marine experience that should be preserved and protected for generations to come.

Learn more about NPCA’s work to protect Biscayne National Park by joining the conversation online with #MoreFishInFL and check out our infographic highlighting the benefits that a marine reserve will bring to Biscayne National Park.

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