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Reef Relief is dedicated to preserving and protecting our coral reef ecosystem by educating our community through rigorous science. After extensively looking at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Restoration Blue Print, our staff and board of directors have come up with a comprehensive list of comments and suggestions that we think are best suited to protect our fragile environment. Below are Reef Relief’s recommendations for the sanctuary advisory council to take into consideration. 

Water Quality 

In section 3.1: Modifications to the sanctuary boundary by alternative, we favor Alternative 4 as it encompasses the largest expansion of the sanctuary border and also includes Pulley Ridge in the plan.

In section 3.2.2: Discharge regulation exception, we favor Alternatives 2, 3, and 4 to “update the existing expectations for discharge from vessels to prohibit discharge of certain materials from cruise ships while inside the sanctuary boundary”

The Sanctuary should better regulate the amount of liveaboards that dump personal sewage in the ocean

Overall, the actions towards improving water quality need to be stronger. The plan proposes what they want to achieve to improve water quality but they do not effectively explain how they will do this. Many of their proposals to improve water quality include hiring a task force to come up with the “hows” in combating water quality issues but, these should be clearly stated in the blue print. The blue print should also include a timeline of when these actions will be completed. 

There is no language in the blue print addressing current water quality in the marine sanctuary besides stating that it is “generally good”

Blue Star Operators 

In section 3.4.5: Limited use access restrictions for specific sanctuary preservation areas, we disagree with Alternative 3. The Blue Star Program is a great concept but, the overall requirements to become a Blue Star Operator should be rewritten to create stronger and stricter guidelines. At a minimum, it should be required to provide deeper, quality education to passengers and to use environmentally friendly products (cleaning products, sunscreens, beverage and food products). Instead of limiting access to Blue Star Operators, it may be more effective to limit access by factors such as boat size, capacity, and level of use.


The sanctuary needs to secure and allocate more funding towards the enforcement of future sanctuary rules and restrictions.

Shallow Water

We favor Alternative 3 for many of the shallow (seagrass meadow) areas. Alternative 3 shows most of these areas being “no motor” areas. The seagrass meadows in these areas are extremely fragile and motored vessels cause large disturbances within these ecosystems.

We favor Alternative 2 for Cottrell, Archer, and Barracouta Key. These areas should be protected and labeled as “no motor” zones. Labeling them as “no entry” could negatively effect the eco-tourism industry as they kayak through these mangroves during tours. These kayak tours provide a way to educate tourists about these ecosystems. 

Areas such as Cottrell, Archer, and Barracouta Key absorb a lot of surrounding marine debris and creating “no entry” zones could create problems for organizations such as Reef Relief to continue marine debris removal projects.

Western Dry Rocks

Opinion 1: Support of Alternative 4, transit only.

Multi-species spawning aggregation site, only way to show rebound in population is to stop fishing altogether.

Opinion 2: Support of Alternative 3, trolling only.

FKNMS says that “trolling only” will decrease the chances of disturbing spawning populations. If Alternative 3 is favored, the sanctuary should define the word “trolling” in order to limit the public from using weights, large nets, and creating disturbance to the ocean floor where spawning takes place. 

Opinion 3: Support of Alternative 1, No action.

Instead of limiting access, sanctuary should look into creating species specific seasons, bag limits, etc. to alleviate stressors on spawning fish. 

Snipes Key/Boca Grande

We favor Alternative 3 which creates “no motor” and “idle speed” zones throughout shallow water, mangrove areas, and nesting habitats while still opening up sandbar (snipes point) to the public.

We favor Alternative 3 which creates “no motor” and “idle speed” zones throughout shallow water, mangrove areas, and nesting habitats surrounding Boca Grande while still giving public access to popular beaches and sandbar areas.

Western Sambo

We favor Alternative 3, where they have extended the “no anchor” zone to include the deep water reef but, the shallow sandbar off of Boca Chica Beach should still allow anchoring as many people use this sandbar. In this preservation zone, divide it in half so the shallow area allows anchoring and the deep water reef does not.

Looe Key

We favor Alternative 2 and 3 because of the larger SPA allowing for better regulations in surrounding area. Transit only in Alternative 4 seems too restrictive.

Sand Key/ Rock Key/ EDR

We favor Alternative 2 for these sites, “idle speed” and creating a SPA. Alternative 3 shows limited access to only Blue Star operators. We do not support restricting these sites to Blue Star only.  *See Blue Star statement above*

DRTO and Pulley Ridge

We favor Alternative 4 to create a WMA and no anchor zone around Pulley Ridge. Pulley Ridge is the deepest photosynthesizing reef in the Keys. Alternative 4 would expand the sanctuary boundary by 1,000 sq miles which would include 259 sq miles at Pulley Ridge.

We favor Alternative 3 to widen the Tortugas North and South Ecological Preserves.

If the sanctuary were to choose Alternative 4, transit only, for the Western Dry Rocks Wildlife Management Area, it may be beneficial to choose Alternative 1, no action, for the Tortugas Fish Corridor Wildlife Management Area. This would allow the public to have access to fishing (including lobster and stone crab) in this species rich zone while preserving and protecting a very important spawning site at the Western Dry Rocks.