Updated: Jan 29
by Alexander Neufeld
Special Projects Coordinator, Coral Restoration Foundation™
So far, community response to FKNMS’s Restoration Blueprint has been divided. At the recent community forum I attended, the loudest voices were from fisherman and backcountry guides, concerned that the proposed changes will negatively impact their livelihoods.
We need to listen to these fishermen – they are experts in their field and their opinions should carry as much weight as anyone’s.
But we also need to hear from experts in marine conservation and restoration. Anyone can see that the Keys are not what they used to be. And scientists all agree that if we don’t act now to protect what remains, everyone’s livelihoods in the Keys are in jeopardy.
On the Florida Reef Tract, dead elkhorn coral (left), and an array of healthy coral (right).
©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Coral Restoration Foundation™ (CRF™) supports the Sanctuary’s preferred options outlined in the Restoration Blueprint.
A common claim is that none of this matters if we don’t first address the water quality issues of the Keys.
But CRF™ grows more healthy coral in its nurseries than can be planted in a given year. On nearly 30 Keys reefs, there are now corals that would not be there without CRF’s work. And on well-managed reef sites- especially sites in Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs) these planted corals are now maturing and spawning naturally.
Because these are protected areas and there are so many corals, a “safety in numbers” effect essentially snowballs their health and growth.
Corals face many issues in the Keys, but they can be resilient if just a few of the issues facing them can be alleviated or eliminated. Water quality is at least a state-level issue (if not a federal-level issue) and, while it does need addressing, it will not be fixed tomorrow.
Reintroducing corals on the Florida Reef Tract. ©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation
In the meantime, what we can do is give corals and the reef system they build a fighting chance by enacting the Sanctuary’s preferred options and removing the most localized and direct impacts affecting reef health. We need to be investing in education, restoration, and enforcement so that when we do finally turn the tide on poor water quality in the Keys, there will still be something worth saving, worth using, and worth our efforts.
The Restoration Blueprint is available at floridakeys.noaa.gov/blueprint. NOAA is taking public comment on the proposals through Jan. 31, 2020. Comments may be submitted online at www.regulations.gov (docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0094).
About the Author
A resident of northern Indiana, Alex graduated from Indiana University in 2015 with a degree in Biology and a certificate in Underwater Resource Management. His first introduction to the Florida Keys was through a high school marine biology course held in Long Key, and he has pursued a career in marine science ever since. After interning at Coral Restoration Foundation™ for eight months, Alex has taken on a slightly different role finding creative new ways for the foundation to utilize its data and digital media.
When he isn’t scuba diving, Alex can often be found outside with a camera or in the water practicing his freediving skills.