Resource Jan 25, 2021

Marine Programs in the Sun Coast Region

NPCA’s Sun Coast Region approaches our marine work with an eye toward ecosystem conservation, restoration and resilience. We work strategically to identify, assess and proactively address the evolving threats to marine ecosystems and all species and resources within them.

Encompassing Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Sun Coast Region is remarkably high in marine and coastal biodiversity. The region spans both temperate and tropical ecosystems and includes important geographic features such as the Florida Reef Tract — the third-largest barrier reef ecosystem on the planet — and the dazzling coral reefs and marine creatures of the Caribbean Sea.

Biscayne, Dry Tortugas and Virgin Islands National Parks all play a critical role in protecting these unique but threatened places. Within the boundaries of these parks are dense mangrove forests, colorful coral reefs, ancient petroglyphs, and a host of threatened and endangered species such as manta rays, green sea turtles, West Indian manatees, American crocodiles and humpback whales. Marine and coastal national parks in the Sun Coast Region also play a crucial role in enhancing local resilience to the effects of climate change.

These incredible ecosystems are in serious jeopardy, and NPCA is working hard to change that. Threats such as overuse, overfishing, pollution, rising seas, hurricanes and changing environmental conditions caused by climate change are harming iconic marine and coastal habitats. NPCA is leading the charge to defend against these threats and to protect and restore coastal and marine parks and connected areas across the region.

NPCA’s Sun Coast Region approaches our marine work with an eye toward ecosystem conservation, restoration and resilience. We work strategically to identify, assess and proactively address the evolving threats to marine ecosystems and all species and resources within them. Our work focuses on:

  • Increasing the resiliency of oceans and coastal habitats
  • Restoring “blue carbon” ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrass beds
  • Providing safe havens for marine wildlife
  • Restoring coral reefs and sustaining fisheries


Enhancing Marine Protected Areas

Did you know?

Fish and other marine wildlife at Biscayne National Park are actually in a worse state of decline than they are in unprotected waters surrounding the park.

The Florida Reef Tract stretches nearly 360 miles from the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County. Even though it is a single interconnected ecosystem, the reef has been divided into different marine protected areas managed by different government agencies with different goals and policies. These areas include Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves, and Coral Ecosystem Conservation Area. Conditions along one part of the reef will affect the health of other parts of the reef. NPCA is working hard to create, expand and defend these protected areas to provide long-term safeguards for park habitats and marine wildlife and to maximize benefits and protections for our national parks.

  • Protecting Marine Wildlife in Biscayne National Park. Biscayne National Park is our country’s largest marine national park, established to protect the area’s unique biodiversity. Unfortunately, the health of Biscayne’s coral reefs and native fish species has been declining for decades. NPCA is leading efforts to protect them by advocating for a no-fishing marine reserve, promoting the phaseout of illegal commercial fishing, improving coral habitat protection and advancing strong fishery management regulations. We also work with community leaders to advocate for local policies that will improve water quality, reduce pollution and educate advocates about the importance of the Biscayne ecosystem.
  • Enhancing Protections for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Bordering three of America’s iconic national parks — Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas — the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a national treasure. The sanctuary protects over 6,000 marine species, approximately 800 underwater cultural and historical sites, diverse habitats, and a significant portion of the third-largest barrier reef ecosystem on the planet. NPCA is advocating to expand sanctuary boundaries, improve marine zones and establish additional marine reserves that will better protect threatened marine wildlife and sensitive habitat. This will enhance the health of the entire reef, including our national parks.

  • Establishing Ecological Connectivity Along Florida’s Reefs. The Coral Ecosystem Conservation Area is an underwater protected area managed by the state of Florida that covers nearly a third of the Florida Reef Tract. NPCA is working to give resource managers the authority to implement a management plan that better protects reef habitat and marine wildlife and improves coral restoration and conservation in the area.


Promoting Marine and Coastal Resilience

Climate change is the greatest threat our national parks have ever faced. Sea level rise, extreme weather events, drought and shifting landscapes caused by the climate crisis put both our natural environment and our communities at risk. Thankfully, coastal and marine national parks play a vital role in helping to protect our communities and natural areas. Habitats like seagrass beds and mangroves help absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in plants and the sediment below. Healthy coral reefs can buffer up to 97% of wave energy, protecting shorelines from damaging storm surges and waves. NPCA is committed to enhancing the resilience of our national parks and the communities that surround them by protecting national park waters and aquatic habitats from degradation. We also work to ensure the quantity and quality of water flowing through the Greater Everglades and coastal national parks are improved by large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts.

  • Rehydrating Coastal Habitat in Biscayne and Everglades National Parks. The Greater Everglades Ecosystem encompasses over 2.5 million acres of subtropical wetlands and coastal habitat, including some of the largest seagrass meadows and - mangrove forests in the eastern U.S. Historically, water from the Everglades flowed to Biscayne Bay through ground and surface water, feeding a productive, diverse ecosystem. However, the draining of the Everglades and subsequent changes to South Florida’s hydrology cut off freshwater flow to both Biscayne and Florida Bays, causing damage to important habitats such as freshwater wetlands, mangrove forests, coral reefs and tidal creeks. Large federal restoration efforts are improving the flow of fresh water to the parks and improving the health of coastal wetlands, tributaries and habitat important for juvenile fish and nesting birds. NPCA is leading advocacy efforts to advance the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and other effective federal and state planning efforts to restore the Greater Everglades ecosystem.
  • Protecting Water Quality in Virgin Islands National Park. Virgin Islands National Park protects a sizeable portion of St. John’s lands and waters, including mangrove-fringed shorelines, stunning sandy beaches and vibrant coral reefs. Unfortunately, these incredible ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them are under threat. Environmental contamination at the once luxurious Caneel Bay Resort, destroyed by two Category 5 hurricanes in 2017, endangers nearby water quality and wildlife, yet goes unchecked. Proposals to construct a mega-yacht marina at the sleepy enclave of Coral Bay threaten water quality and ecosystem health in nearby areas. And a continued march of destructive hurricanes across the shores of the Virgin Islands have left pollution, degraded ecosystems and destroyed infrastructure in its wake. NPCA works closely with local partners on St. John to identify solutions and unite advocates to counter these threats.

  • Conserving and Restoring Florida’s Coral Reefs. The Florida Reef Tract is located off the coast of South Florida, which is home to more than 9 million people. It is our country’s most threatened coral reef and has been classified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as impaired. Factors such as overuse, overfishing, water pollution, marine debris and coral bleaching due to climate change have led to a decline in coral cover and health over the past few decades. Compounding these challenges, a recent coral disease outbreak known as the stony coral tissue loss disease has decimated some species of coral and live coral cover has fallen to its lowest level ever recorded. Immediate action to restore critical habitat and protect healthy habitat is vital. NPCA is assessing the health of the reef tract and promoting policies aimed at enhancing coral conservation, restoration and disease response.

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