Working to protect nearly all of Florida’s corals could help safeguard the Florida Keys’ coral reef, say supporters of a pending state bill.
Bills in the Florida Legislature creating the Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area now await only the signature of Gov. Rick Scott to become law. The Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved SB 232, following the lead of the Florida House that approved its HB 53 version of the bill in January.
Monroe County Commission members unanimously endorsed the bills in a Jan. 17 resolution, calling on state lawmakers to allow Florida agencies to work together on a conservation-area plan “that would assist in identifying causes for diseases impacting the Southeast Coral Reef, and identify solutions to stop and reverse the impacts from the reef-system diseases.”
“The Florida Keys portion of the Florida Reef Tract is recognized and protected by management plans of the National Marine Sanctuary, national parks and national wildlife refuges,” Monroe County legislative liaison Lisa Tennyson wrote in a report to county commissioners.
“However, the Southeast Florida coral reef tract remains unprotected and without a state-adopted management plan addressing its future sustainability,” she said.
The overall Florida coral reef runs from the Dry Tortugas to Martin County on the east coast, but efforts to protect many coral areas north of the Keys lack an overarching designation that could attract grant money for research and restoration.
The “northern reef tract is experiencing a significant disease event that is spreading quickly, underscoring the need for protective measures,” Tennyson said. “Disease continued to spread north and south into the Florida Keys throughout 2016, and by summer of 2017, reports of widespread disease were confirmed as far north as St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County and to the southern boundary of the Upper Keys.”
The Monroe County Commission’s resolution says “this current disease event is unique due to its scale, high infection rate and rapid spread.” If approved, the Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area would become official on July 1.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206