After my column on connectivity, I got an interesting email from a local resident. I always like to hear from people. I wish more folks would speak their mind, especially during the zoning review process underway by the marine sanctuary. It's important to get input from all users of the sanctuary.
I think for the Sanctuary Advisory Council, it is beneficial to hear from anyone who cares to be heard. User groups have skin in the game, and all have a seat at the table. In my opinion, this is a collaborative decision process.
According to the management plan and Environmental Impact Statement, management of the sanctuary is to be a balance between resource protection and multiple, compatible uses of those resources. You can see the original document here: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/mgmtplans/fmp2.pdf.
His letter turned me towards a timely topic: Education. At the last Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting, Mary Tagliareni delivered an excellent presentation on all the efforts the FKNMS staff conducts to help educate sanctuary users. This includes the fishing, diving and boating communities, as well as commercial interests. These programs help educate folks on sanctuary rules, current conditions of the resources and the effects of zoning.
In this email, he was concerned about closing areas of the reef to fishing, while allowing diving activities. He was wondering why an area designated for protection would not be closed to all activity. Specific areas have specific use permissions and restrictions. If you are wondering what all the zones mean, the answers are here: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/zones/types.html
I was talking about connectivity in the piece that prompted his letter. I used Snapper Ledge as an example of a reef area that is connected to a seagrass meadow. Grunts, goatfish and snappers congregate on the reef during the day, and forage in the seagrass meadow at night. The areas are connected and daily biomass exchanges take place.
As the working groups evaluate and recommend areas that may be candidates for multiple uses, does it not make sense to protect the kitchen as well as the bedroom, and include the hallway that connects them, if we are going to protect any part of the house? The science certainly says yes.
Then he brought up another interesting point. Fisherman have to buy a license. According to him, the fishing industries have been paying to play for a long time. He was wondering what the diving industry contributed. And he is correct, divers do not pay license fees like fishermen. Everywhere overseas I have been on a dive trip, divers pay to play. I suggested if he had an idea for user fees for diving, I would be interested in hearing them. In fact, in Bonaire, not only are divers charged a fee, but windsurfers and kiteboarders are also charged a fee. See http://www.geographia.com/bonaire/bondiv01.htm
As far as contributions to the local economy are concerned, I directed him to the socioeconomic summary sheet: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/science/socioeconomic/pdfs/fk_final.pdf
According to this study, "Approximately 739,000 visitors and residents participated in 2.8 million days of diving in the Florida Keys, virtually all of it within the sanctuary, between 2007 and 2008; $51.7 million was spent at diving/snorkeling operations. Moreover, divers spent a total of $450 million in Monroe County, Florida Keys, supporting more than 7,500 jobs."
As part of the sanctuary review process the working groups are examining all zones and boundaries. The basis for the examination is peer-reviewed science and socioeconomic data gathered over the last decade or more. Technology such as GIS mapping and acoustical tagging of fishes is also being used. The groups are looking at the overall health, resilience and sustainability of sanctuary resources.
I referred the letter writer to the recent study of the Dry Tortugas to help him gain some insight on the parameters, variables, characteristics and trends under consideration. The study "finds that both fish populations and commercial and recreational anglers have benefited from "no-take" protections in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary." Here is the study: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/whatsnew/releases/2013/130204tortugas.html
Also I gave him the link to the Conditions Report, which contains a more detailed look at the current state of the sanctuary. There are many stressors on our sanctuary resources that need to be addressed, such as pressure from divers, overfishing, derelict fishing gear from commercial and recreational activity, and water quality issues. See http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/scipublications/condition.html
I encouraged him to get involved. The public is invited to meetings. People are given time to speak during the public comment period. I have to say, I don't see much of that at these meetings. What I have seen in the few folks that have attended is a well-thought-out statement and a desire to know more. Hopefully I will see more of that during this process.
It was a very short note, and I wish he could have been more specific in expressing his concerns. I want to thank him for writing to me.
Education is a key component of enhancing and sustaining a resilient ecosystem. Please take some time with these documents to learn more.
As a member of a working group, I believe it is our task to make the sanctuary a better, healthier, more resilient and perpetually sustainable place to live, work and play.
As always, these are my thoughts, and are not the official views of the agencies with oversight of the sanctuary.
@excuse: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 a member of the Ecosystem Protection Working Group for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.