FLORIDA CORAL REEFS

Overview of the Issue

An extensive coral disease outbreak began affecting the area in 2014 and continues to spread more rapidly northward from Miami-Dade County, but has also moved southward into the southern Florida Keys and Mexico. The cause and method of transmission are unknown, and in some areas 80% of the reef is impacted. The disease is 100% fatal for affected corals.

Our Florida Reefs (OFR) was a community-based planning process in southeast Florida sponsored by the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI), supported by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and facilitated by NOAA. The group officially dissolved after finalizing its management recommendations for the coral reef tract ranging from Key Biscayne, northward to Stuart in June 2016. While many of their recommendations addressed pressing issues affecting corals, among them are the creation of no-take fishing zones for 20-30 percent of the area and the nomination of the entire area as a National Marine Sanctuary, without a justifiable scientific basis and in direct opposition to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). A final OFR report was issued in May 2018. ASA and KFF worked closely with DEP to ensure the content focused on the OFR process rather than the closure recommendations. Many of the former OFR members continue to their involvement in the issue as the members of SEFCRI.

What ASA is Doing

KFF worked with DEP and the Legislature to secure state funding in the state budget for treatment of the outbreak, restoration strategies, and increased resiliency. We continue to work on ways to improve the overall focus of the coral program in the agency and encourage a multi-agency approach to addressing the issue. We have been encouraged by the support from Noah Valenstein, the current DEP Secretary, to move additional state funding and resources to address the coral disease outbreak and to direct the coalition of responders towards intervention and restoration actions. The state appropriated $10 million in its 2020 budget for coral disease response.

DEP has contracted with Kai Lorenzen of University of Florida to lead a fishing stakeholder engagement project. ASA has worked with organizers to populate the committee with relevant fisheries-related stakeholders including ASA’s Keep Florida Fishing Director, Gary Jennings. The Committee’s purpose is to “harness the capacity of the fishing community (fishing stakeholders and industry) to advance conservation of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area (ECA)” and will develop recommendations for consideration by SEFCRI.

At the federal level, ASA has advocated for reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Program to address the urgent needs of our coral reefs.  In August 2019, Senators Rubio, Schatz, Scott and Hirono and Reps Soto and Gonzalez-Colon introduced the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act (S2429 and HR4160) that authorizes five years of directed federal funding and technical assistance to states for the restoration and management of coral reef ecosystems, encourages innovative new Coral Reef Stewardship Partnerships among resource management agencies, research centers, and community stakeholders, and codifies and updates the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

What You Can Do

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For more information, contact ASA Atlantic Fisheries Policy Director Kellie Ralston.