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Keys Sanctuary To Unveil 'Restoration Blueprint'

Corals and seagrass are important habitats in the Florida Keys.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

It's been more than 20 years since the last comprehensive plan to manage the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Now the sanctuary is releasing a restoration blueprint that will include four alternatives for protecting the coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass flats around the Keys, from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas.

"We have new zones proposed, we have boundary changes that we are proposing, so it is a comprehensive look," said Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the 3,600-square-mile sanctuary that covers waters surrounding the Keys.

The restoration blueprint will be released Tuesday on the sanctuary's website and at a meeting of the Sanctuary Advisory Council in Marathon. That meeting is scheduled to start 9 a.m. at the Isla Bella Beach Resort, 1 Knight's Key Blvd., and to be streamed live on the sanctuary's YouTube channel.

Corals especially have been hard hit in recent years by bleaching and disease. Fangman says those may be caused by factors outside of local control. But she says it's still worth taking steps that can help make the whole ecosystem more resilient.

"I don't have a strategy for preventing Hurricane Irma. I don't have a strategy for preventing coral disease," she said. "The strategies we're proposing aren't going to fix those global issues. But what they're going to do is help this system be stronger.

A sea turtle cruises through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Credit G. McFall / NOAA
The Florida Channel
A sea turtle cruises through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The blueprint release will include four alternatives — a status quo version where nothing changes, a preferred alternative, and ones that are less and more restrictive.

The public can comment on specific items from each alternative, and does not have to take each version as a whole, Fangman said.

And it's not just about zoning and regulations. It also includes how the sanctuary is managed, including mooring buoys, volunteer programs and science. 

And it's not just about coral.

"The sanctuary includes a whole host of habitats that are important and interconnected. So protecting the corals is obviously the iconic ecosystem, or the habitat that we have here. But our seagreasses, our mangroves, our hardbottom habitats are equally important to protect and we have proposals for doing so throughout the restoration blueprint," Fangman said.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.