As a boater, diver, angler, and your state representative for the last eight years, I can think of no issue more wide-ranging in its impact than the protection of our coral reefs and unique marine environment. Our economy is also inextricably tied to our natural environment, making these issues even more significant for those who call the Florida Keys their home. In my time in the legislature, we have pushed for long-term investments in protecting our coral reefs and improving nearshore water quality in the Florida Keys, including dedicating state funding to restoration and water quality efforts. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with other stakeholders on the front lines and we’ve been successful in tightening penalties against resource violators and increasing funding for coral restoration and replanting specifically. Gov. DeSantis has also shown strong support for our environment, advocating for record levels of state funding in his first year in office to address water quality, and I am extremely proud to have been a part of these efforts.
Now, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has presented a draft plan “Restoration Blueprint,” calling for a number of changes to its management plan, including extensive changes to the boundaries of the sanctuary and to fishing, diving, boating and other rules for the waters surrounding the Florida Keys. This process has been challenging, but it has had the benefit of engaging so many of our local stakeholders who have really come out and made their voices heard. Since these individuals and groups will arguably be the most impacted by these changes and are often our best resource for catching poachers and bad actors, I think it is critically important that they be a part of the discussion (and contribute potential solutions) as this process moves forward.
I think it is important to remember that we are in the early stages of a very fluid process, and one that touches on a number of issues related not only to access but also to fisheries management. As noted in previous opinions, these issues fall under the purview of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and since the proposed rules will have to be approved by the state and then enforced by the state, I expect we will become an even bigger part of the conversation and will work with the sanctuary to take what they proposed and find the best balance between the protection of our natural resources and the local economy that is supported by those resources.
The Restoration Blueprint is available at floridakeys.noaa.gov/blueprint. Jan. 31, 2020 is the last day to make public comment to NOAA on the proposals. Comments may be submitted online at www.regulations.gov (docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0094).
To review the Weekly’s coverage of the Restoration Blueprint and community opinions about it, visit keysweekly.com/42/category/sanctuary-blueprint/