Monroe’s Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution during its Nov. 20 meeting urging the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to hear stakeholder comments, while conveying a message not to limit public access unnecessarily, as the Restoration Blueprint process continues.
Now, the Islamorada dais is crafting its response. And while it mirrors Monroe County, village council is taking it a step further on the enforcement side.
Vice Mayor Mike Forster took a moment to discuss a possible resolution from the village on the Restoration Blueprint during council’s Nov. 21 meeting at Founders Park Community Center. While generally liking what the county commissioners crafted and approved, Forster said he wanted to include a facet that he’s heard time and time again during public meetings — enforcement out on the water and the need to fund an already understaffed Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Even in the waters today, we don’t have the proper enforcement,” he said. “That should be added because right now, FWC has taken over all the enforcement of the National Marine Sanctuary, where they used to have their own boats and patrol officers.”
FWC Capt. David Dipre fielded the enforcement question from a community member during a Restoration Blueprint information session in October at Coral Shores. Dipre said stronger rules would still protect the environment, even without 100% enforcement. But he also suggested requesting state funding to increase the available number of enforcement personnel.
The sanctuary encompasses 3,800 square miles, and it spans a shallow water interface from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. FKMS protects open, offshore reef tract and near shore patch reefs, as well as seagrass meadows, hard bottom regions and fringe mangroves.
Expressing her support for the suggested addition to address enforcement, Mayor Deb Gillis acknowledged the overall plan put forth by FKNMS is strong even though there are still issues to resolve.
“I am a firm believer something has to happen, or we won’t have a reef,” she said. “And we won’t have any fishing, diving or any tourism. I have more faith that they (FKNMS) will listen to mistakes made and correct them.”
Councilman Ken Davis noted there needs to be another line added in the village’s response to the blueprint.
“Without enforcement, these laws mean nothing,” he said.
FKNMS’ Advisory Council is set to meet Tuesday, Dec. 10 at the Islander Resort to discuss the blueprint and gather comment from the public on the middle and upper regions. Public comments are being gathered through Jan. 31, 2020. The plan is at floridakeys.noaa.gov/blueprint.