Not so, said Ed Tichenor, head of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue and long-time reef advocate. Privatizing the reefs would require a major overhaul of long-standing legal regulations and principals, such as the Public Trust Doctrine, which holds that publicly owned natural resources are important to everyone and therefore everyone should have access.
“The coral reefs in Florida are a natural resource,” Tichenor said. “You can’t assign ownership to a hotel or a cruise ship.”
Joe Browder, a longtime Everglades advocate and official in the Department of Interior during the Carter Administration, likens the reef privatization proposal to periodic efforts to allow developers to build resorts in the national parks. Browder, who also taught a course on private enterprise and the environment at Johns Hopkins University, called the idea “absurd” and proposed by “people on the fringes.”
“They have spent decades trying to persuade the world that public ownership of land is no good and if the land has any real value, somebody in the private market will manage it better,” Browder said.
Sean Morton, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, said pay-to-play proposals and user fees are not new. What is often ignored is administering, managing and enforcing such ideas. Who and how would leases be auctioned, permits issued and territory rights be enforced?
“You want to float an idea like that, it’s going to require a lot of work and discussion,” Morton said. “I think it’s an interesting academic discussion but I cautioned them — come to a public meeting and see what kind of reaction you would get.”