A series of five two-day meetings over the next four months is designed to craft possible alternatives for marine protected areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The Ecosystem Protection working group of the Keys Sanctuary Advisory Council aims to present its proposals to the full council in early July.
As part of a rewrite of the sanctuary's management plan, the local advisory council will consider "a review of sanctuary regulations including the rules and boundaries for marine zones in the sanctuary and surrounding national wildlife refuges."
The sanctuary's first management plan took effect in July 1997. That plan has changed little, except for a 2000 update to include the Tortugas Ecological Reserve and a 2007 update to list current goals and activities.
The Ecosystem Protection group -- 16 voting members from the Keys community -- was able to adopt a proposed plan for wildlife refuges with minimal controversy last year.
However, draft sketches of new or expanded no-take zones offshore created significant opposition from people working in fishing and tourism. Those sketches were dropped before any detailed discussion or vote.
After a meeting earlier this month on how to devise new alternatives, the group has planned regional meetings to go over nearby marine protected areas in detail.
Sessions open to the public are scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. They're at:
- Upper Keys region, March 25 and 26 at the Hilton Key Largo Resort, mile marker 97.
- Middle Keys region, April 17 and 18 at the Marathon Garden Club, mile marker 50.
- Lower Keys region, May 13 and 14 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center at the Truman Waterfront in Key West.
- Marquesas region off Key West, June 10 and 11 at the Eco-Discovery Center.
Recommendations from the advisory council will be further reviewed by state and federal staff, with the secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce making the final decision.