Few proposed changes for marine protected areas off the Middle Keys came out of an April meeting of a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary working group.
However, a new zone off Duck Key, possibly a no-take Sanctuary Preservation Area, received "consensus support" from the Ecosystem Protection working group, a committee of the Keys Sanctuary Advisory Council.
No specific boundaries were drawn for the possible Turtle Shoals zone, described as having several species of threatened corals, "high stony coral cover and fish diversity."
The Ecosystem Protection working group's formal votes on possible changes to the Keys sanctuary's network of protected areas are expected to be taken at July 8 and 9 meeting in Marathon.
That slate of recommendations will be considered by the full Sanctuary Advisory Council later this fall, then sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for final review.
Any changes that emerge from the first major update of the Keys sanctuary management plan in nearly two decades would likely take effect in 2016.
Possible expansion of the Tennessee Reef Research-Only Area off Long Key to include deeper water to the 90-foot level was considered at the working group's April 17 and 18 meeting in Marathon.
A majority of the working group liked the concept, but no specifics were decided, says a meeting summary from Keys sanctuary staff. Others in the working group are "concerned about impacts to fishing use" near Tennessee Reef.
Suggestions for preservation-area boundary changes at Alligator Reef off Islamorada and Coffins Patch off Grassy Key were voiced but found limited support, the report says.
The next two meetings of the volunteer Ecosystem Protection working group take place May 13 and 14, and June 10 and 11, at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West to consider Lower Keys and Marquesas zones.
For more information on the management plan process, go to floridakeys.noaa.gov.
Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation based in Tavernier, will remain chairman of the full Sanctuary Advisor Council through April 2016.
The council, meeting April 15 in Islamorada, approving keeping vice chairman Chris Bergh and Nedimyer in their leadership positions for another two years.
The group also voted to a send a "strong statement" to NOAA leadership, seeking an increase in sanctuary enforcement officers.
The resolution notes that enforcement personnel for the sanctuary's 2,900 square miles of water are "at an all-time low, and constituents are demanding more enforcement resources."