“We are all on the same team, like it or not.”

There are so many things I love about this plan. I, of course, love the expansion of the sanctuary line. I love expanding the SPAs inshore and offshore to protect species as they migrate to shallower or deeper waters throughout different life cycles and/or for breeding and feeding habits.

There is immeasurable biodiversity on our reefs. The genetic diversity of corals and the comprehension of what is most important is, I believe, currently above our level of understanding. Because of this, I also love expanding SPAs in towards shallow waters as well as out into deeper waters. We need to protect a broad range of reefs because they all play important roles.

I love slowing boaters down along all coastlines, not just residential areas (we need to protect our limited natural coastlines). I love no animal feeding within the sanctuary; let’s keep our wild animals wild. While there are some modifications I would like to see, I am very excited for the work the sanctuary has done so far.

Ultimately, I believe the best plan will pull from each alternative as well as some new and as-of-yet unheard suggestions from the public. We want to see as much conservation as possible. We see the value in preserving the reef.

Alligator is one SPA that we frequent and care for, so we are paying special attention to the plans for this reef. However, we understand that the health of the entire reef system must be the focus. We need more than a few small highly protected areas. We need a continuous and well-protected sanctuary.

There are some gaps that still need to be addressed such as enforcement. There are some modifications that should be made, especially pertaining to anchoring laws. The implementation of mooring buoys was overlooked and, in my opinion, is extremely important to the sustainability of our coral reefs.

I would like rental boat companies to be held to a higher standard to educate renters on the sanctuary zones and laws. We often find ourselves educating tourists once they are already moored up in a SPA with fishing lines in the water. These boaters speed through SPAs over diver bubbles and anchor directly on coral in 20 feet of water. An increase in Keys-specific boater education would reduce damage to seagrass beds and inshore habitats.

I encourage all operators – fishing, diving, snorkeling, and all other watersports – to incorporate conservation into their business models and their customer-based activities. The sanctuary should also enforce a reef tax on all individuals diving, snorkeling, fishing, renting boats, etc. that can then be utilized for mooring buoy installation and management.

Sarah Fangman mentioned during the Blueprint release that if we all work together and sacrifice a little of what we want for the greater good, we will see a successful outcome for the sanctuary. We are all on the same team, like it or not. As long as we remember that we will all win in the end.

Cortney Benson
Marine conservation coordinator,
Key Dives, Islamorada