Marine sanctuary panel endorses new wildlife areas

kwadlow@keynoter.comJune 21, 2014 

Advisors to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a proposal to expand the number of wildlife management areas in nearshore waters.

The council agreed to send a slate of recommendations from its Shallow Water Wildlife and Habitat Protection Working Group to federal and state staff for review.

The sanctuary advisory council, meeting in Marathon, added several items to the working group's suggestions as part of the sanctuary's major update of its management plan. Those include:

-- Ensuring boat channels remain open for navigation. The area around Marathon's Vaca Cut was "noted in particular," says a meeting summary.

-- Seeking a "clear rationale" for instituting changes in nearshore waters. Areas of particular interest were the proposed Tarpon Wildlife Migration Zone along much of Marathon's Atlantic Ocean coastline, along with Lower Keys areas at East and West Baracutta Key Flat, and in the Marquesas.

-- Marking the zones to alert boaters.

-- Considering alternatives to wildlife designation areas to protect turtle-nesting areas.

-- Adding Pelican Key, in a "high-use area" on the bayside of Key Largo near mile marker 98, as a new wildlife zone to protect wading birds and frigates.

During public comment, a speaker urged the sanctuary to consider "carrying capacity for sandbar recreation areas."

The advisory panel agreed to recommend "mechanisms to address emerging areas of concentrated use that could damage shallow-water habitat."

Recommendations from the Sanctuary Advisory Council will be submitted to sanctuarystaff (which includes state and federal workers) for consideration during drafting of the new management plan's environmental impact statement.

The panel also endorsed a plan for coral restoration areas.

Any changes to existing sanctuary regulations suggested by staff return to the Keys for public hearings. No major changes are expected to take effect before 2016, under a revised timeline.

The sanctuary council's Ecosystem Protection Working Group, which is reviewing marine protected areas along the Keys reef tract, meets in a two-day session July 8 and 9 to finalize its recommendations. The meetings at the Marathon Garden Club are open to the public.

The full advisory council will review the marine-protected area plan at its Aug. 19 meeting.

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