Lots of legwork ahead

Sanctuary’s advisory council to see public input

Following the release of the 2011 Condition Report for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary – the first attempt to describe comprehensively the status, pressures and trends of resources – earlier this year, the advisory council must now set out to continue their mission of protecting the fragile eco-system.

“The first step, as a federal agency, is to discuss with the public what they want with regards to goals for management,” Superintendent Sean Morton explained to the packed meeting room at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center on Tuesday.

“This will set the foundation for the next 10 to 20 years,” said Bruce Popham, who serves as the advisory council chair. “This is a huge amount of work and will take participation from everyone on this council.”

Though the outreach plan and talking points for public discussion are yet to be formulated over the course of the coming months by Morton and his staff, he laid out a strategic timeline with public scoping meetings scheduled to begin by next May.

Popham added that in addition to public outreach meetings across all three regions of the Florida Keys, meeting would also be scheduled for mainland areas affected by new regulations and zoning.

Chris Bergh of The Nature Conservancy said the challenge ahead is going to lie in soliciting people’s opinions as well as incorporating them into the process.

“We’re thinking this will be more round-table style meetings where you will be given assignments to take notes and comments and give everyone an opportunity to talk,” Morton added. “We want this to be a much less intimidating process, maybe even have a comment box. That would be a typical scoping meeting.”

Years of studies and scientific data used to compile this year’s condition report show the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary charted a reduction of key species like corals, queen conch, long-spined sea urchin, grouper and sea turtles. The reduced abundance of selected keystone species, according to the report, has caused or is likely to cause severe declines in ecosystem integrity with the possibility of recovery unlikely.

“This is the data, now we have to get to work on the process,” Popham concluded.

Sanctuary Advisory Council meetings are normally held on the third Tuesday of every other month (February, April, June, August and October). Meetings are open to the public. For more information, visit http://floridakeys.noaa.gov

 

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