As many of you might know, I sit on the Sanctuary Advisory Council of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. I represent the charter fishing/flats fishing community as an alternate. Despite being an alternate, I've been heavily involved in Sanctuary goings-on for the past 5 years as a member of the council as well as on my daily outdoors radio show, Island Outdoors, which aired on WKWF-AM 1600. I've attended meetings. I've served on working groups.
During the past 2 years, members of the council have been taking part in an ongoing review of the Sanctuary's comprehensive management plan. One of the areas we've been looking at are the current zoning regulations for different habitat types throughout the Sanctuary boundaries to determine if they are sufficient to protect the resource.
This didn't happen yesterday, and it didn't happen in private. All of the discussions were part of advertised meetings which stakeholders were invited to participate in -- ad nasueum.
But low and behold, no one on the outside really got involved until we started drawing lines on a map. And they came out in droves. Unfortunately, no one bothered to read the Condition Report 2011, the science on which our recommendations are based. You can read it here, but I have to warn you, it's pretty depressing.
Apparently -- at least according to hundreds of scientists that have dedicated hundreds of thousands of man-hours to all facets of research with in the Sanctuary -- we as a general population haven't done a very good job as stewards of this international ecological treasure.
In fact, all everybody seems to be worried about is whether or not they'll be able to continue to fish the same area they've fished for the last 30 years (Western Dry Rocks, which happens to be one of the few mass spawning sites in the Atlantic and Caribbean basins for a wide-range of fish and invertebrate species important to the health of our coral reefs) and beat it into submission.
Or whether or not they'll be able to continue running their 15-vessel jetski tours through the backcountry.
Or if they'll still be able to put hundreds of sunscreen-slathered tourists in the water at the same spot on the reef tract -- to stand on the coral and pee in the water -- day after day.
At least that's what the Key West Chamber of Commerce and the City of Key West are about to send.
Last week, the Key West Chamber of Commerce drafted a resolution in support of no further expansion of protected areas within the FKNMS, in support of the Key West Charterboat Association, led by Capt. Rich Gomez.
Gomez' group keeps harping on the concept that the FKNMS is involving itself in fisheries management and that this is an over-reaching act by the Sanctuary authorities.
So now, the City Commission has gotten involved and asked City Attorney Shawn Smith to draft a resolution supporting the Chamber of Commerce's position.
The problem is that the goals of commerce and conservation -- unfortunately -- don't mesh.
I'll be posting a letter to the editor for the Key West Citizen a little later today. There is a lot of disinformation being spread out there by Gomez, CoC director Virginia Panico and City Commissioners Mark Rossi and Tony Yaniz.
Why, you might ask, is this your problem?
The Florida Keys reef and all its inhabitants belong to you, your kids and their kids. It doesn't matter if you are from Key West, Key Largo or Anchorage, Alaska.
But one thing is for certain; people that have a direct financial conflict of interest tied to overuse of the resource and beating it into submission shouldn't be making the decisions.
If we don't take action now to protect what's left, we might as well not worry about any of it. Beat it into the ground. Dredge, baby dredge.
The time has come to make decisions based on what's right for the resource, not what's right for the bottom line of a select few.