A new no-fishing marine area covering more than 16 square miles in Biscayne National Park was approved in the park's new management plan, which was unveiled Friday.
The no-harvest marine reserve takes in 10,502 acres, or about 16.4 square miles, according to KeysInfoNet. The zone will set aside about 6 percent of the park's waters, according to a National Park Service statement.
An expanded slow-speed zone along the mainland shoreline is in effect to improve manatee protection and there is a no-wake zone at Elliott Key to enhance boater and swimmer safety.
"A marine reserve is one of the most effective ways for us to encourage restoration of the park's coral reef ecosystem and it received strong support from the public during development of the plan," park superintendent Brian Carlstrom said in a statement. "In addition to producing larger fish and more fish for snorkelers and divers to enjoy, the marine reserve is expected to have a spillover effect, improving the fishing experience outside the zone."
“We need to give the reef the best chance we can to be as good as possible,” Carlstrom told the Miami Herald. “We would love to have a very healthy, fully representative Florida reef right here in Biscayne National Park.”
Several groups criticized the plan, saying that commitments to work with stakeholders and the state of Florida to explore less restrictive options were ignored.
“We understand the importance of protecting our natural resources and the delicate balance needed to ensure that anglers and boaters are able to enjoy these public waters,” Center for Coastal Conservation president Jeff Angers said in a joint statement made with other stakeholders that criticized the plan. “However, the National Park Service has shown little interest in compromise and today’s announcement confirms a lack of desire to include the needs of park users and stakeholders in important decisions such as this.”
“Today’s announcement confirms that Biscayne National Park officials never had any real interest in working with stakeholders or the state of Florida to explore compromise plans,” said Mike Leonard, ocean resource policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, one of the nation’s leading fisheries management agencies, has stated that a marine reserve is far too restrictive and that other management measures can achieve resource goals while still allowing for public access. The only conclusion that one can draw from this decision is that the public is simply not welcome at Biscayne National Park.”
The Florida commission also sees the reserve as “a management measure of last resort” and has only supported such restrictions when it has been “scientifically demonstrated” that they work, spokeswoman Amanda Nalley told the Herald in an email.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., also opposes restricting public use, calling for the plan to “ensure access for all.”