Support for the Tortugas Ecological Reserve
Billy.Causey at noaa.gov
Wed Jan 24 18:47:05 EST 2001
Dear Coral Listers,
This Friday the Tortugas Ecological Reserve proposal goes before the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a draft rule.
There are 7 jurisdictions in the region of the Tortugas and we have 5
approvals behind us and are now approaching the 6th. This is going to
be a critical step for the Tortugas Ecological Reserve.
I recently challenged some scientists to be actively involved in the
public review and comment phase of such proposals, for all the best
science (natural and socio-economic) in the world won't make a
difference if we don't convince the decision-makers that this is the
"correct" approach. The heat of politics can be overwhelming. Too
often, we fall short of having credible, active scientists give
testimony at public hearings on these issues where the decisions are
John Ogden, who knows all too well how the public comment process works
from his experience on our Sanctuary Advisory Council, has responded
with this excellent Op Ed piece that will appear in local papers.
Please read and enjoy ..... and get involved with this or similar issues
in your area. Cheers, Billy Causey
Let's Support a Marine Reserve in the Dry Tortugas
John C. Ogden
At the end of the month, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
will hold a public meeting on Tortugas 2000- a proposal to create a
reserve prohibiting fishing and extractive use in two zones of coral
and related habitats totaling 151 square nautical miles surrounding the
Dry Tortugas. The plan was forged over two years of effort by a
cross-section of Florida citizens including commercial and recreational
fishers, conservationists, divers, tropical fish collectors, and
people and has been endorsed by the Sanctuary Advisory Council and the
federal Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The bottom line
driving this extraordinary consensus is the overwhelming evidence that
depletion of fish populations is damaging the coral reefs of the
economic future of the region.
Groupers and snappers are the poster children of the problem. The
favorites of anglers and spearfishers, as well as snorkelers and scuba
divers, these fishes are getting scarce, so much so that both the South
Atlantic and Gulf Fisheries Councils have declared many species
overfished. As large predators on coral reefs and hard grounds, these
fishes live a long time and spend most of their lives in a relatively
small area. They control prey populations in a manner identical to
predators on land and when they are overfished, the coral reef ecosystem
Why the Tortugas?
The Dry Tortugas (from the Spanish word for turtles) are a group of tiny
islands at the western end of the Florida Keys National Marine
70 miles west of Key West. They are the meeting place of the Loop
of the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Current/Gulf Stream. The Tortugas
contain some of our last and most unspoiled marine areas including
high-biodiversity coral reefs and seagrass meadows, important reef fish
spawning areas, and several seamounts. Ocean current drifters tracked
satellite by the University of Miami show that the Tortugas are upstream
from the rest of the Sanctuary and provide larvae for the rest of the
Keys. For generations the Tortugas functioned as a de facto reserve by
being remote and little visited. However, larger boats and modern
navigational equipment have opened up much of the area to commercial and
recreational fishing and the sharp decline of key fishery species is
More and larger fishes
Tortugas 2000 is an extension of the zoning plan of the Keys Sanctuary,
which was created from 1991-97 by a diverse Advisory Council of
working in cooperation with state and federal agencies. The Sanctuary
currently contains only one reserve of 9 square nautical miles in the
western Sambos reefs near Key West. Since it was implemented in 1997,
studies in the Sambos reserve by state and federal agencies show that
there are already greater numbers of larger sized lobsters and some
fishes. We have no reason to doubt the eventual outcome. A report of
National Research Council issued last December shows that in over 200
cases around the world, marine reserves resulted in more and larger
within a 5 to 10 year period in nearly every case.
Large fish are surprisingly important. They produce a
greater number of eggs and ocean currents transport their larvae
downstream to grow up in areas open to managed fishing. The larger
in reserves spillover to surrounding areas and may be caught. For
example, the de facto reserve created around the Kennedy Space Center
resulted over the years in a number of world record catches just outside
its boundaries. Finally, marine reserves are very attractive to
A large grouper, for example, is more valuable on her home reef
photographed by thousands of divers and snorkelers each year than she is
on the end of a fishing line.
How much protection is needed?
Most Floridians are astonished to learn that in spite of its 2800 square
nautical mile area, the total area of the Keys Sanctuary that is fully
protected from fishing and other extractive human uses is only 14 square
miles! This tiny degree of protection stands in stark contrast to our
many fully protected national and state parks and federal and state
wildlife refuges. Take a moment of think about the annual economic
of visitors to these land reserves. Now consider the economic
of healthy coral reefs, sustained recreational and commercial fishing,
tourism. A healthy ocean is the key to our economic future.
In spite of increasing the Sanctuary protected area by more than 10
implementation of Tortugas 2000 will bring the total area protected to
about 6% of the sanctuary area. This is still far below the 20% figure
that the scientific consensus suggests is the minimum protection which
will sustain our reefs as well as managed fishing.
But progress is made one step at a time, and the unanimous agreement
reached by the Tortugas Working Group, which included many commercial
recreational fishing representatives, exemplifies the recognition that
this reserve will help to restore sustainable fisheries in the Keys.
Let's support the shared vision that binds the conservation and fishing
communities and take an important step to insure the future of our coral
reefs and their irreplaceable fishes and fishery resources.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission will meet Friday, 26
January, at Radisson Mart Plaza Hotel, 711 NW 72nd Avenue, Miami,
beginning at 8:30 am. Comments may be sent to: Mark Robson, Regional
Director, FWCC, 8535 Northlake Boulevard, West Palm Beach, Fl 33412;
561-625-5129; Phone: 561-625-5122.
John C. Ogden is Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography in
Petersburg and a member of the boards of the World Wildlife Fund and the
Center for Marine Conservation. He was on the founding Advisory Council
of the Keys Sanctuary.
Billy D. Causey, Superintendent
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
PO Box 500368
Marathon, FL 33050
Phone (305) 743.2437, Fax (305) 743.2357
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