Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary asks divers for help in protecting the coral and benthic – or sea bottom – resources of the Keys and to follow existing regulations prohibiting placement of items on, or disturbance to, the sanctuary seafloor. In recent years, sanctuary management has documented an increase in activities that impact the seafloor, including the temporary placement of items for photo opportunities or marketing events.
Since 1997, the seafloor has been protected by sanctuary regulations. Approved exceptions to these regulations include anchoring in waters greater than 40 feet deep, licensed fishing gear (lobster and stone crab traps), and any other activities conducted under a valid permit from the sanctuary.
“From lawn ornaments to bags of candy, we’ve seen Keys divers placing or anchoring items to the seafloor, even if only long enough to take photos. Temporary placement of an item may seem innocuous, but such activities can harm the reef resources that attract divers to the Keys in the first place,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “What may look like a rock or sand to the untrained eye is actually habitat covered with life, including juvenile coral recruits.”
The sanctuary oversees a permitting process to allow activities that would otherwise be prohibited to occur with minimal negative impact to the marine environment. Permits may be issued for research, educational, archeological, or other purposes that increase the scientific understanding or natural resource value of the sanctuary and its resources. The sanctuary issues more than 200 permits every year to private and public institutions, non-governmental organizations, and individuals.
Permit applications for research and education activities are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. On average, processing time for permits is 30 days, but may be longer for complicated requests or requests that include the collection of sensitive or prohibited organisms (e.g., coral species). For additional information on sanctuary permits, visit http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/permits/welcome.html.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.
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