The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (“Sanctuary”) was created by an Act of Congress in 1990, to protect 2,800 square nautical miles of Florida Keys coastal and ocean waters. This was in response to a decade of threats posed by oil drilling proposals, deteriorating water quality, declines in the coral reef ecosystem, and large vessel groundings. The new Sanctuary encompassed the two pre-existing Keys sanctuaries of Key Largo (est.1975) and Looe Key (est.1981).
The immediate protective measures of Congressional designation prohibited oil exploration, mining, or any type of activity that would alter the seafloor, and restricted large shipping traffic; in addition, anchoring on, touching, and collecting coral were restricted within Sanctuary waters.
The Congressional designation required the development of a comprehensive management plan, involving a lengthy set of public “scoping” meetings which were followed by a series of workshops. The purpose of the meetings and workshops was to collect input from stakeholders (local users and state and federal interests) having knowledge of problems within the new Sanctuary area’s waters.
As long-time Keys residents will recall, those scoping meetings and workshops were well attended and contentious, with independent-minded users fearful of how the new Sanctuary management plan might affect them, their recreational activities, and their livelihoods. While there was general acknowledgement that Keys waters required protection, various groups lobbied long and hard for regulations that would protect their special interests. Drafts of the management plan went through several iterations, each reflecting extensive public comment, culminating in implementation of the final version in July 1997.
Public Can Participate in Update of the Management Plan
Today, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 3,800 square nautical miles of Keys waters and is administered by NOAA and jointly managed with the State of Florida, FDEP, and FWC. Currently under review (100-day comment period) are a proposed federal rule and a new Sanctuary management plan, jointly called the Restoration Blueprint. Public meetings are scheduled in August and September – you can participate through the Zoom platform, submit comments on-line, and/or comment in person.
Last Stand has consistently participated in helping to shape the Sanctuary over the decades and will notify members by email of specific opportunities for new public comment, but the basic schedule is below. A link for Last Stand’s January 2020 comprehensive comments may be found on the Last Stand website.
Public Input Dates for New Sanctuary Blueprint:
August 16 – Virtual Q & A, 6–9 pm (Must Register in Advance, use this link.)
August 30 – Virtual Public Comment, 6–9 pm – Best opportunity for anyone not in the Keys to comment (Must Register in Advance, use this link.)
September 20 – Key Largo – Coral Shores High School – 6 pm
September 21 – Marathon – Marathon High School – 6 pm
September 22 – Key West – Key West High School – 6 pm
More details can be found at: https://floridakeys.noaa.