Glimmer of hope for the Restoration Blueprint? - A man wearing sunglasses driving a boat in the water - Goggles

Having attended or viewed all of the public meetings held in the Keys since the unveiling of the Restoration Blueprint, and listening to all the public comments, it is safe to say it is unanimous the fisherman in the Florida Keys would like to see the Restoration Blueprint, as written, be rolled up and responsibly sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

The Restoration Blueprint requires a major overhaul. There are many areas and restrictions that simply do not make sense, cannot be enforced, will create overcrowding and user conflict, and more habitat destruction than perceived or intended. We can sit back and wait for the Restoration Blueprint Plan to disappear, but that is not likely to happen. A better choice is to get involved and stay engaged through Public Comment.

At the last Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting I heard a glimmer of hope. The sanctuary staff promises a fair and transparent process moving forward. They have admitted to mistakes in the plans and they have begun to speak about dismantling the “alternatives”. A presentation was made regarding major coral restoration plans.

This is a movement in the right direction. The coral restoration project is a proactive plan within the scope of the FKNMS that the community can embrace and support.

In the Restoration Blueprint, the FKNMS was reaching beyond their scope with regulations imposed on fisheries. The fisheries regulations should be determined by the State and Federal Fisheries Management Councils and not to be decided by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary or the SAC.

Adding mooring buoys to popular anchoring areas will ensure improvement in coral protection and is another positive action that can be embraced and supported by all. It is essential to the preservation of our coral resources, and anyone who enjoys the waters of our Florida Keys will gladly utilize them! Proper mooring buoy placement within the Key Largo management area will eliminate the need for the 132 square mile proposed no anchor zone restriction. This vast closure area is nearly equivalent to the size of the 137 square mile land mass of the entire Florida Keys. The proposed closure would cause increased, devastating pressure on areas just outside of the boundaries, such as Pickles Reef and beyond.

We must not forget the three essential elements in our groundwork toward solutions:

  1. Adequate Law Enforcement and focus on the water patrols.
  2. Education programs like the Blue Star program, which should be available to all.
  3. Water quality, the number 1 impactor on the health of our reefs. Without clean water nothing will ever improve.

My involvement with the marine sanctuary began back when decisions were being made where to put the yellow balls to mark SPA boundaries. I have been a member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council representing Charter/Sport Fishing for almost ten years. I have always trusted the process and I have great respect for all the members of the SAC.

Just like many Keys residents, my wife and I have enjoyed the beautiful waters of Florida Keys and all they have to offer since we were kids. Our two daughters were born here and they greatly respect and enjoy our surrounding waters as we do. No doubt my grandson, due to be born in May, will follow the same.

I am 100% committed to conservation and preservation of our land and water resources and will continue doing the right thing to protect them!

Captain Steve Leopold
Offshore Charter Fishing Guide

Steven Leopold is a long-time offshore charter fishing guide in Islamorada and sanctuary advisory council member.


The Restoration Blueprint is available at NOAA is taking public comment on the proposals through Jan. 31, 2020. Comments may be submitted online at (docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0094).  

To review the Weekly’s coverage of the Restoration Blueprint and community opinions about it, visit

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