5 years is long enough! Time to implement the Marine Reserve for Biscayne National Park!

5 years is long enough! Time to implement the Marine Reserve for Biscayne National Park!

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South Florida Wildlands Association started this petition to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and

Dear Biscayne National Park Superintendent Penelope Del Bene,

Nearly five years ago, the National Park Service (NPS) signed a Record of Decision creating a 10,512-acre marine reserve – a no-fishing zone - covering a small part of the 174,000-acre Biscayne National Park (6% of the park’s waters).  The signing in August of 2015 was the culmination of a 14-year process involving numerous public meetings, comment periods, and exhaustive scientific review of eight different alternatives.  This culminated in a new General Management Plan for the park – the first such revision since 1983.  Though a number of new zones to enhance park protections, such as slow-speed and no-combustion motor zones were included, no measure was more important to the wildlife and ecology of Biscayne National Park than the new marine reserve.  As of today, the marine reserve exists only on paper.

Biscayne National Park is a national treasure.  Adjacent to the ever-growing Miami-Dade Metropolitan Area, it is the largest and most visited marine national park in our nation.  It hosts a portion of the Florida Reef Tract – the third-largest barrier reef on Earth and the only such reef off the mainland U.S.  It protects an enormous variety of landscapes as well as terrestrial and marine wildlife.  The park’s own website notes dozens of species that are dwindling and have received federal protection as endangered or threatened species or are state-listed as "imperiled."  Five species of sea turtle plus corals and a wide variety of reef fish are examples of park residents which would immediately benefit from this reserve.

Years of scientific study and reports by folks who fish and dive in Biscayne National Park have documented sharp drops in the quantity and diversity of marine species found within park boundaries.  A 2015 Miami Herald article, citing the park service on why the reserve was needed, noted intense destruction of park resources due to “heavy fishing and boat traffic” contributing to declines in fish populations, propeller and hull scarring on bottom habitats, and a dramatic loss of coral reef cover in the park.  An earlier article referred to Biscayne National Park as being “loved to death” by its many visitors.

Biscayne National Park's coral reef is also “critical habitat” for two of South Florida’s important reef-building species - elkhorn and staghorn coral – both of which have experienced losses of over 90 percent.  While many of the stressors Biscayne National Park experiences – e.g. warmer ocean temperatures and pollution – are outside the management of the National Park Service, boat traffic and commercial and recreational fishing are not.  And marine reserves have already been established throughout the world.  The healthier wildlife and ecosystems and larger and more diverse fish populations that result are known to be more resilient to a wide range of environmental impacts including climate change, pollution, and disease.

When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote their Biological Opinion of the new plan, they specifically noted the impacts of fishing tackle on corals in South Florida - “a study of 63 offshore coral reef and hard-bottom sites in the Florida Keys quantified the impacts of lost fishing gear to coral reef sessile invertebrates. Lost hook-and-line fishing gear accounted for 87 percent of all debris encountered and was responsible for 84 percent of the 321 documented impacts to sponges and benthic cnidarians (e.g. corals), predominantly consisting of tissue abrasion causing partial individual or colony mortality.”

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified Biscayne National Park as a “Class V - Protected Landscape/Seascape,” and describes that classification as follows: “A protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values.”

Five years is long enough.  The process which created the Biscayne National Park Marine Reserve was completely transparent and carried out under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The vast majority of folks who participated in the process called for the creation of the reserve – and that call was backed up by solid research by federal scientists from NOAA and the NPS as well as by a unanimous vote in support of the reserve by the Miami-Dade County Commission – the county which actually hosts the national park. The Organic Act of 1916, the landmark legislation which created the National Park Service, calls for management of national parks “in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  Finally, claims that the creation of the marine reserve means “locking up” the area as some opposed to the reserve have claimed is far from the truth.  As the NPS points out, the reserve will provide "swimmers, snorkelers, scuba divers, and those who ride a glass-bottom boat the opportunity to experience a healthy, natural coral reef with larger and more numerous fish and an ecologically intact reef system.”  The decision to create the reserve was deemed necessary by the National Park Service and is not one that can simply be tossed aside.

Biscayne National Park grew out of Biscayne National Monument - created in 1968 when the current park's mainland was about to be converted to a massive shipping port called Seadade and Elliot Key, the barrier island adjacent to the park's reef, was set to become another version of Miami Beach known as the City of Islandia.  We are very fortunate that did not happen.  We call on the National Park Service to take all steps necessary to implement the Biscayne National Park Marine Reserve now - and safeguard these rare and biodiverse lands and waters in perpetuity.

0 have signed. Let’s get to 5,000!
At 5,000 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!