Dive Time with Tim Grollimund

What kind of sanctuary do we want?

August 1, 2013 

A juvenile queen angelfish glides along the reef. Ecosystem protection initiatives are being assessed as part of the regulatory review process. (Photo by Tim Grollimund)


To pick up on the theme from last time, ecosystem protection is a different ballgame than traditional fisheries management. We had (what I thought would be) our last Ecosystem Protection Working Group Meeting this past Monday.

The information on everything we have done can be seen here: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/review/reserves.html

This has been quite an experience. Once the maps I made a month or so ago began to circulate, there were, of course, folks that liked them and folks that didn't. I expected that. I drew large ecological reserve areas, combined several existing Sanctuary Preservation Areas into larger SPAs, made a new SPA at Snapper Ledge, and generally took a strong line on conservation of our reef tract.

This was met with extreme opposition by commercial fishermen. When I drew the maps I knew they would not be well received by the fishermen. I was more interested in the reaction than the lines on the map. To me the lines on the map were simply points of negotiation, not an end game. They were not perceived as such.

When I met with Ernie Piton and Bill Kelly from the Commercial Fishermen's Association a couple weeks ago, we agreed on law enforcement, education and water quality as critical issues for the sanctuary. I agree wholeheartedly with them on these issues.

Where we began to part ways was in the management paradigms of the sanctuary. The commercial folks are subject to a fisheries management structure. That's what they have to live with day to day for their businesses. From what I learned from Bill and Ernie, it's been messy at times. It's also been successful at times.

My perspective is from an ecosystem protection point of view. There are conflicts between the two approaches. I believe combining elements of both could yield favorable results for the Keys. We are not there yet.

I do not agree with many of the public commenters that said the science is no good, all is well in the ecosystem, and no changes should be made. The comments were passionate, animated and at times, profane. I even got cussed out and ostracized outside the building on the way to lunch.

That was comical, and added just the right amount of context for the day. I don't know who the guy was, but I think he has far greater issues than lines on maps with a display of conduct like that. Anger management lessons, maybe? I believe we should be proud to call the third largest barrier reef in the world our home. Seems to me we can do better than we have in the past to protect, preserve and heal this wonder of nature. We have to do it together. All of us.

For the last several months I have been writing about the science we have been presented with to help us make recommendations. You can see the entire Sanctuary Science Series on the right hand side of my website. One of the recurring comments in the meeting was no one has summarized the science. It's all there. I know I do not get many readers from the fishing community. So I will appeal to you now. If you can open your minds to a different point of view for the few minutes it takes to read the science series, I believe you may have a better understanding of what was presented to the working group.

Even though Ernie, Bill and I disagree on many things, our discourse has always been civil and respectful. I believe we can learn a lot from each other and learn to compromise to balance economic and ecological interests from both camps. That's the main question, in my opinion: How can we balance commercial, recreational and economic interests with ecosystem protection to best preserve our way of life for all stakeholders?

My concern is if we do not work this out amongst ourselves, decisions may end up out of our hands and in government agency hands. I don't think the commercial folks will like that.

We have the opportunity to do something spectacular here. I am concerned we will not. From my point of view at this point in time, I am concerned we will continue to capitulate more toward the self-interest user group side of the fence rather than a true ecosystem protection side of the fence. We need to adjust and adapt the paradigm. Our reef is at stake.

I have studied this for nearly a year now, and I am no closer to a full answer. I have a pretty good handle on the conservation piece, but I cannot balance the equation on the economic side.

And so there you have it. Or actually, there we have it. How will history relate our story? Were we the group that made a difference? Were we the group that let the opportunity to make our own decisions slip away to be assumed by the government agencies based on the continued decline of the resource? In about a decade we will have the answer.

I hope it's a monumental success story, and sets an example for others to emulate. Our working group recommendation from Monday's session is to have regional meetings, in evening hours, for more input from the public. Then we will meet again as a working group and assemble our final recommendations. Alternatively, the council may choose to take what we have done so far and proceed without any more working group meetings.

As always, these are my thoughts, and do not reflect the views of other working group members or any agency with jurisdiction over the sanctuary.

Tim Grollimund is a freelance photographer and PADI divemaster based in Key Largo. He can be reached at tim@timgimages.com or through his web site atwww.timgimages.com. Tim is a member of the Ecosystem Protection Working Group for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

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