A while back (October), I said from time to time Id shift gears away from animals and behavior and give you updates on the marine zoning process. Today thats what were going to discuss.
It might not, on the surface, be as entertaining as watching redlip blennies duke it out, but its important for us to keep up with the activities that affect or will affect our unique Keys lifestyle.
I have spent considerable time these last few months delving into the marine zoning process. As I read about other areas of the world that are developing zoning practices and principles, I observed this is a science-intense decision process, with an overarching dome of user groups that all have valid concerns and desires.
In some parts of the world, the infrastructure and local resources to conduct the science is lagging behind the [perceived] need for marine zones and ecological preservation. I say perceived because without the science and empirical evidence, fact-based decision making is limited and perception is a heightened component. There are lots of organizations helping to establish baselines and measurements in these areas.
I have a bit of an economic development background, so the recent studies I classify as bio-economic with socioeconomic overtones are compelling reads to me. But well get to those another day. Suffice it to say, were setting the stage for a continuing discussion throughout the year.
Of particular interest is the Coral Triangle. I have been to the Philippines and Indonesia, two of the six countries in the coral alliance. In the marine parks I have visited in the region, you pay to play in the park. Keep that in mind for future reference.
How much of an area should be set aside for protection or preservation? Thats the smoking gun question. Dr. Sylvia Earle says at least 10 percent of the worlds oceans should be set aside. The folks that manage the Great Barrier Reef started their process without a hang-your-hat-on-this-figure estimate, and ended up with 30 percent set aside. We have about 6 percent set aside in our sanctuary.
There are many factors that make each sanctuary situation unique. Much of the Great Barrier Reef is 20 to 30 miles from shore. Our reef tract is much closer, and we all know the painstaking process in the Keys for the mandated change from septic tanks to public sewer services. Our water quality issues are different from their water quality issues. Thats just one simple, but major, difference.
So I have to wonder, for a reef tract about five times further from the coast, why do they have 10 times more area set aside? I know, its a superficial approach, but I just had to ask. Its a perception thing. As we know, Im not a scientist.
At the end of the zoning process we are going through now, will we still be at 6 percent, or will we be at the Dr. Earle level (10 percent), or the Great Barrier Reef level (30 percent)? This process is going to be very interesting to watch.
Id like to get your opinion lets call it a straw poll not scientific, but interesting and fun. If you are so inclined, drop me an e-mail at the address below. Id love to know what you think. I have been invited to be a member of the Ecosystem Protection Working Group. Part of this work is to listen to you. Talk to me. Your observations are important.
For today lets look at the Dry Tortugas study that was released in early February. Good news all around. Since the area was designated as a reserve in 2001, black grouper, red grouper, yellowtail and mutton snapper all increased in abundance and size in the region (not just in the no-take zones). Spawning activity for mutton snapper has started to come back. Commercial catches are trending upwards. No financial losses for commercial or recreational fishers have come about since the lines were drawn.
According to Holly Bamford, the assistant administrator for NOAAs National Ocean Service, The findings in this report are good news for NOAA management efforts to enhance fisheries and other natural resources in the Florida Keys. A model that works is in place, supported by the proper science.
Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent, summarized it as follows: This research shows that marine reserves and economically viable fishing industries can coexist... The health of our economy is tied to the health of our oceans. They are not mutually exclusive. You can see a summary of the study here: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/whatsnew/releases/2013/130204tortugas.html
There is also an excellent three part series on this on NOAAs science blog:https://noaaoceanscience.wordpress.com/. The science is talking. Its mitigating previous apprehensions from some user groups on how they would be affected.
To me, we are on the right path to create a highly effective group of outcomes for the Florida Keys. Thats why Im on the soapbox again. We have it within our grasp to make a significant difference as the marine zoning process progresses.
Two of the three sanctuary working groups have started the next phase. The Ecosystem Protection group begins in March. See http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/review/workgroups.html for the group descriptions, objectives, members and notes.
And you can bank on this: once again, we are in a leading position, and the marine management world has eyes on the Keys. Lets make sure we do our absolute best to restore, preserve and enhance our waters, our quality of life, and provide a framework for others to emulate. Its up to us.
Tim Grollimund is a freelance photographer and PADI divemaster based in Key Largo. He can be reached at email@example.com or through his web site at www.timgimages.com. Tim is actively involved with the Coral Restoration Foundation and the Aquarius Foundation.