Last month, Last Stand attended three back-to-back in person public comment sessions concerning the new proposed Blueprint for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
On September 20th in Tavernier, September 21st in Marathon and September 22nd in Key West, three of our Board members presented statements focused on the environmental issues threatening the highly fragile waters the Sanctuary manages.
Last Stand recommended the FKNMS adopt the expanded zoning protections that we originally supported in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. We said expanding the sanctuary boundary to cover Pulley Ridge would help protect deep-water corals. We also said we support the boundary expansion for Tortugas South that supports multi-species fish spawning aggregation areas.
We told the FKNMS water quality in the Keys continues to be one of our top concerns and we felt more could be done to reduce the adverse impacts to key marine species and habitats. We recommended the addition of a new Management Plan activity, calling for the sanctuary to recognize the adverse impact of degraded water quality in our nearshore waters. We also asked the Sanctuary to intervene in DEP permit approvals for shallow well disposal of treated sewage in Marathon and throughout the Keys.
At these public input sessions, our board members strongly encouraged FKNMS to establish a mandatory boater education program to cut down on damaging wakes and prop scarring caused by boaters unfamiliar with Key’s waters. We highlighted the success of the mandatory boater education program in Everglades National Park as an example of what could be implemented in the sanctuary.
Last Stand Board members asked the FKNMS for more protections for the Western Dry Rocks Wildlife Management Area, and said we were encouraged with the steps to establish a seasonal fishing prohibition between April 1st and July 31st for this critical multispecies spawning aggregation site.
We congratulated FKNMS on their new regulations prohibiting shark and fish feeding. Studies have shown predatory species behavior is modified by fish feeding.
Last Stand encouraged sanctuary staff to work with Monroe County for better wildlife protections from the impacts of frequent fireworks displays.
We supported FKNMS in the creation of a new 23 acre No Entry Pelican Key Wildlife Management Area to protect nesting pelican and magnificent frigate birds.
We also supported the establishment of a larger Marquesas Keys Turtle Wildlife Management Area. This area is a globally important foraging area for sea turtles, and we are concerned the proposed protected area is smaller than Alternative 3 in the Draft EIS. We asked FKNMS to expand the protected area to the Draft EIS size and provide necessary exceptions for military use within the area to maximize protections.
We supported FKNMS in updating sanctuary regulations to prohibit cruise vessel greywater discharge, which would provide the same protection as those in Glacier Bay National Park.
Last Stand has been involved with the sanctuary from the beginning and we are currently working on providing our more detailed written comments to submit to the FKNMS for the new Blueprint before the deadline on October 26th.
If you would lie to submit comments before the upcoming deadline, here’s a link to the NOAA website: https://floridakeys.noaa.gov/blueprint/