Measures to protect, restore reefs up for debate

An advisory group of citizens, business owners, academics and government agencies has rekindled the debate over establishment of no-fishing zones off Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

At a meeting of the “Our Florida Reefs” community working group Wednesday in Dania Beach, some 20 members recommended more than 140 measures aimed at improving and restoring coral reefs that extend from north of Biscayne National Park to the Broward-Palm Beach line. The group began meeting this year as part of the 10-year-old Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative coordinated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

A second working group for Palm Beach and Martin counties is holding similar discussions. The groups are expected to put their suggestions out to public meetings in late 2015.

Various forms of marine protected areas ranging from no-fishing zones to declaring the entire southeast Florida reef tract as a marine sanctuary and/or UNESCO World Heritage site were among the management strategies put forward at Wednesday’s meeting at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center.

Panel members said they fully expect public opposition, but are ready for it.

“Oh my God! No take!” Dan Clark, who heads the nonprofit environmental group “Cry of the Water,” said, half-joking.

In what one working group member called a “preemptive strike,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Nick Wiley recently wrote a letter to Broward County commissioner Kristin Jacobs, chair of the Southeast Coastal Ocean Task Force, reiterating the FWC’s position that no-fishing zones are a management measure of last resort to be implemented “only after less restrictive options have been tried and failed.”

For example, in the contentious, 10-year effort to adopt a management plan for the waters of Biscayne National Park that included a proposed no-fishing zone, the FWC convinced park officials to develop a less-restrictive alternative for protecting marine resources. Public meetings on that alternative and others will be held this week.

Other management recommendations from last week’s coral working group: increasing penalties for fish and lobster violations; halting the discharge of untreated waste water into the ocean through outfalls; keeping large ships away from coral reefs; protecting coral reefs from potential offshore oil drilling; developing strategies for coral re-stocking and enhancement; enhanced restrictions on coastal construction; limiting or eliminating beach renourishment projects; and restricting the use of pesticides and fertilizers on lawns and farms to protect reefs from run-off.

The working groups will continue discussing management options for the next several months. Anglers, divers, boaters and others can keep up with the process at http://ourfloridareefs.org. Final adoption of a suite of recommendations is expected in mid-2016.