No-take zone approved for Biscayne; Reserve covers more than 16 miles

A Biscayne National Park management plan unveiled Friday includes a 16.4-square mile no-take area in waters north of North Key Largo.
A Biscayne National Park management plan unveiled Friday includes a 16.4-square mile no-take area in waters north of North Key Largo.

A new no-take marine area covering more than 16 square miles in Biscayne National Park has been approved in the park's new management plan that was unveiled Friday.

The plan uses features from earlier "alternatives" in hearing documents to create a new "Alternative 8" map for the national park that covers the northernmost section of the Florida Keys reef tact, off North Key Largo.

The no-harvest marine reserve takes in 10,502 acres, or about 16.4 square miles.

"The marine reserve zone will be the primary tool in a suite of techniques used to improve the park's coral-reef ecosystem and provide visitors with the opportunity to experience a natural, healthy reef with larger and more numerous fish," park Superintendent Brian Carlstron said in a statement.

"It is also anticipated to create the potential for a spillover effect, improving fishing experiences in surrounding areas," he said.

Boating, diving and other no-harvest activities will be allowed inside the area, which has its southernmost point at Pacific Reef Light. 

The no-take area starts at Hawk Channel and runs east to the park border. Anniversary Reef, Ajax Reef, Long Reef and the Lugano Wreck are inside the marine reserve. 

Lionfish, an invasive species that threatens native fish, is the only fish exempted from the no-take rule in the reserve.

"This is a victory for the coral reef and the fisheries, and most of all for the national park," said Caroline McLaughlin, Biscayne program analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association.

The park-support group notes the no-take area covers "just 6 percent of a park that is 95 percent water, but it will have a big impact."

"This has been a long time coming," said the NPCA's Alison Zemanski Heis. "This is something our organization has advocated for more than 14 years."

During the management-plan review process, many Florida Keys commercial fishermen and recreational anglers protested that a new no-take zone in Biscayne National Park could keep them away from traditional fishing areas. They also voiced concern that a large closed area could push more boats based in Miami-Dade County south toward the Keys.

Proposals for a 22.8-square-mile "special recreation zone" where sport anglers would be limited either by season or permit apparently was dismissed over the complications of enforcement and administration.

After Friday's announcement, the Biscayne management plan is in a 30-day "no action" period, but likely will be approved and put into effect.