Three areas between Lake Worth and Boca Raton proposed as no-take zones where fishing, lobstering could be banned.

By Willie Howard

    
Divers, anglers, boaters and others who enjoy South Florida’s coral reefs came to the Delray Beach Public Library Jan. 29 to comment on dozens of proposals intended to protect the reefs from threats such as pollution, anchor damage and high water temperatures.
    Recommendations for protecting South Florida’s coral reefs range from improving education to creating marine protected areas along the four-county area where fishing, lobstering and other consumptive uses could be prohibited.
7960630865?profile=original    High water temperatures, pollution, silt from beach restoration work, vessel groundings and anchor damage all threaten the delicate coral colonies that build the reefs.
    “It’s really death by a million cuts,” said Francisco Pagan, manager of the state’s Coral Reef Conservation Program.
    Although reefs in the Florida Keys are protected by a national marine sanctuary, including several no-take areas, there are no special regulations in place to protect the northern section of the Florida Reef Tract, which extends 105 miles from the north end of Biscayne National Park to St. Lucie Inlet near Stuart.
    The recommended management actions, or RMAs, were developed by a working group of about 50 volunteers who have been discussing   South Florida’s reef problems and possible solutions since March 2014.
    If they become policy, the proposals could reduce sources of reef-damaging pollution; improve coral reef education for students, boaters and anglers; boost law enforcement on the water; create coral reef gardens; halt plans to expand Lake Worth Inlet for port traffic; and reduce the harvest of herbivorous fish that remove algae from the reefs.
    About 25 people came to each of the two Jan. 29 workshops to ask questions and submit comments about plans to protect South Florida’s reefs.
    Seasonal Delray Beach residents George and Gigi Mankoff said they would like to see more coral reef education in schools as well as hands-on educational opportunities for children.
    “If you’re a Floridian, you need to be concerned about the reefs because they’re such a beautiful resource,” Gigi Mankoff said.
    Among the proposals drawing public interest during the Delray Beach workshops were the 13 “areas of interest” selected for possible marine protected areas, or MPAs.
    One of the group’s recommendations: Protect 20 percent to 30 percent of the reef tract from “extractive use,” meaning no-take areas.
    Seven areas of interest for MPAs are being proposed along the coast of Palm Beach County, including five south of the Lake Worth Pier. They are:
    • The Lake Worth to Manalapan area, proposed as an MPA but not a no-take area. It would stretch from just south of Lake Worth Pier to Manalapan and extend from the beach to the outer edge of the reef. It covers popular dive destinations, such as Horseshoe Reef.
    • The Gulf Stream Reef, a proposed no-take zone along the reef tract with its center off the Boynton Beach water tower.
    • The MV Castor wreck, an artificial reef off Gulf Stream known as a Goliath grouper spawning area. It’s being proposed as a location for seasonal fish-spawning closures.
    • Fink’s Delray, a proposed no-take zone stretching from the beach to the outer edge of the reef tract. It extends from George Bush Boulevard in Delray Beach south to Toscana Towers in Highland Beach. The area is known for good hard coral cover and sites with relatively large numbers of fish.
    • Fink’s Grouper Hole, a proposed no-take zone known for its ledges and areas with large numbers of fish. Unlike Fink’s Delray, this proposed MPA would not cover the area between the reefs and the beach. Its approximate location is from Jasmine Drive in Delray Beach south to the north end of Lake Wyman in Boca Raton.  
    The possibility of closing 20 to 30 percent of the South Florida reef tract to fishing and other consumptive uses has drawn strong reaction from fishing organizations.
    The recreational fishing group CCA/Florida sent an email to its members expressing concern over the proposed MPAs and urging them to attend the Our Florida Reefs workshops.
    CCA/Florida said it does not support MPAs unless they are scientifically justified, have stated goals and are used as a last resort.
    The recreational fishing group also disagreed with a proposal to create a national marine sanctuary along the coast of the four-county area, noting that would be an unneeded delegation of state authority to a federal agency.
    “The state has an excellent record of managing its fisheries and resources,” said Trip Aukeman, CCA/Florida’s director of advocacy.
    No-take zones should be considered “only when recreational fishing poses a clear and demonstrated threat to the sustainability of fisheries resources,” the American Sportfishing Association said in response to the Our Florida Reefs proposals.
    “The main threats to our coral reefs in Florida come from increased water temperatures, water quality and sedimentation — not fishing activities,” an ASA memo said.
    But the Our Florida Reefs working group memo says the possible MPAs — including no-take zones, no-anchor areas, restoration areas and areas closed to fishing during fish spawning seasons — would improve the condition of the region’s coral reefs.
    “There are user conflicts, unsustainable uses of the resource, direct impact to reefs from ships, boats, debris and anchors and disruptions to spawning (fish) aggregations,” the memo says.
    “We need areas that are completely set aside that don’t have any consumptive uses,” said Dave Gilliam, a coral reef ecologist and assistant professor of marine biology at Nova Southeastern University.
    Selling no-take areas to the public is likely to be difficult, said Tom Campbell, a Lighthouse Point diver who attended one of the Delray Beach workshops. Nonetheless, Campbell believes limited no-take areas could boost fish populations. “The fish have to have a place to go and spawn,” Campbell said.
    No-take areas, the working group says, could create better fishing outside the closed areas and could attract divers who want to see abundant marine life.
    But the working group’s memo also notes that maintaining no-take areas would require “a large amount of enforcement effort.”


It’s not too late to comment
    The public is invited to comment on proposed management actions, even if they don’t attend one of the workshops.
    Comments must be received by March 1. They can be submitted online through the Our Florida Reefs website, www.ourfloridareefs.org (Click on “get involved” and pull down to “comment on management recommendations.”).
    Hard-copy comments, including comment cards from the workshop meetings, can be mailed to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 1277 NE 79th St. Causeway, Miami, FL 33138.
    A report containing final recommendations, expected this summer, will be presented to agencies that would be charged with reviewing the reef-protecting measures.
    Any recommendation that requires a rule or policy change would have to undergo its own separate review process before it could be implemented.

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