Key Biscayne National Park establishes new marine reserve to try and restore coral reef ecosystem

A spiny lobster in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.
A spiny lobster in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, where protective management has helped rebuild fish stocks. Key Biscayne National Park hopes that a new protected area will help restore coral reefs. Photo courtesy NOAA.

No-fishing zone seen as key piece of new management plan

Staff Report

FRISCO — The National Park Service says a 10,000-acre no-fishing zone will help restore the heart of Key Biscayne National Park’s coral reef ecosystem and boost fish populations in surrounding waters.

The new marine reserve was announced earlier this month as part of an updated management plan for the popular park near Miami. The no–fishing zone covers about 6 percent of the park’s waters. Some other ecologically important shoreline areas will be protected by slow-speed, no-wake, and no-motor zones to benefit seagrass beds, manatees, mangroves and nesting birds.

“Our primary goal is a natural, healthy marine ecosystem for visitors to explore, learn about, and enjoy” said park superintendent Brian Carlstrom. “This plan will guide us and help ensure that the park’s vital and extraordinary coral reefs, mangrove forests, extensive tracts of Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys, and 10,000 years of human history, will be protected for future generations.”

The new plan recognizes that tourism, recreational use, fishing, and development have all taken a toll on Biscayne National Park over the last thirty years. Many key reef species have declined, as heavy boat use has crushed corals and left thousands of propeller scars. Overall, only six percent of the park’s reefs remain.

Numerous studies around the world have shown that marine reserves help restore coral reefs and fisheries. In particular, a NOAA study showed how species like black and red grouper are making a comeback in south Florida waters thanks to strict management of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

“A marine reserve is one of the most effective ways for us to encourage restoration of the park’s coral reef ecosystem and it received strong support from the public during development of the plan,” Carlstrom said. “In addition to producing larger fish and more fish for snorkelers and divers to enjoy, the marine reserve is expected to have a spillover effect, improving the fishing experience outside the zone.”

The park received about 43,000 unique public comments over the years as the plan took shape.

“We worked with many partners and public agencies to determine the way to a healthy park and with minimum restrictions on activities in the park today,” Carlstrom said.

Continued public involvement is critical to success of park management actions. The park continues to work cooperatively with partner agencies, especially the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.

The plan will be gradually implemented depending on available funding and staffing. Implementation of the marine reserve zone will occur after a special park regulation is issued. The regulation will define the various aspects and requirements of visitor access within the zone.

Visit www.parkplanning.nps.gov/bisc_gmp to download a copy of the final plan and more information about the plan. A limited number of CDs and printed copies are available in the Dante Fascell Visitor Center.

For more information about Biscayne National Park please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/bisc or follow the park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/biscaynenps, Twitter at www.twitter.com/biscaynenps or Instagram at www.instagram.com/biscaynenps.

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