The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) has a daunting task looming at its two-day—for now—December meeting: submit a comprehensive recommendation to guide final changes to the restoration plan proposed by the sanctuary, the first significant changes to the sanctuary’s rules in more than 20 years. It’s a big enough task that the board spent the majority of its Oct. 18 meeting in Marathon simply discussing the process by which it will create a finished product.
Although the currently proposed plan is open for public comment online at regulation.gov until Wednesday, October 26, Tuesday’s meeting represented the last chance for in-person public comment, the majority of which echoed concerns from previous public sessions of the sanctuary held throughout the Florida Keys.
Most civilian commentators expressed displeasure with specific area closures, boundary extensions, anchoring regulations, changes to fish feeding operations, enforcement issues for violators, and the ” excessive government overreach”. Others expressed strong support for the measures proposed by the sanctuary, seeing the majority of the proposed plan as a small compromise for the continued protection of critical areas of the Keys waterways.
“I believe it’s time to give back to the resource and the environment,” said Jimmy Gagliardini, marathon charter captain. “There are a lot of people who are in this room for one reason: they are there to antagonize the government. … They don’t know any of the facts, and they don’t care. … I don’t see this as a step in the right direction; I see it as a giant step forward. »
The afternoon session of the meeting served as a trial run for the process. SAC President George Garrett and Vice President Ben Daughtry hope to guide discussions on specific issues in December. Using a previously completed survey of SCC members’ discussion priorities, the duo identified nearly 30 specific points of interest in the Blueprint, initially tasking members with a smaller “core group” write “statements of support” and “questions to consider” as a trial run for a few of them.
Beginning with two areas of the proposed sanctuary boundary expansion – the Tortugas area and the deep photosynthetic coral reef system known as Pulley Ridge – Daughtry asked the board members present about their thoughts, adding their points. of support and concerns to create a comprehensive summary for each region.
With a long list of pros and cons from various stakeholders likely to surround each point of contention, the discussion shifted to how the council would ensure the delivery of a complete and digestible product to the superintendent of the Sarah Fangman shrine after the December meeting.
“I want to acknowledge the tremendous work that the members of the core group have done in trying to think, ‘How would we do that?'” Fangman said. “For me, the opportunity for this group to provide your thoughts collectively is powerful, and it’s really challenging. … I appreciate you testing this concept and committing to hopefully doing your homework to by December to help facilitate important conversations and hopefully draw conclusions as a body, as much as possible.
Several suggested methods of online polling and digital collaboration prior to the next board meeting as a way to streamline discussions, in addition to using focus groups to discuss summaries of each regulatory change prior to discussion with the whole advice.
Conservation and Environment Council member Jerry Lorenz argued for a weighted polling process whereby SAC members could specify their level of support or concern for specific talking points, rather than a vote. by simple majority on each modification of the regulations. By doing so, sanctuary staff would be able to easily identify both points of contention and so-called “obviousness” in the proposed changes.
“The simple answer for me is you weight that by voting,” he said. “We’re not all going to agree, so this gives the reader the option to go, ‘Well, the board really favored (this proposal), but they were split on this one.'”
With the exact process in December still to be determined, Daughtry and Garrett tasked SAC members and alternates with choosing specific bylaws for which they want to write statements of support and concern. Statements generated by Board members will inform management of the final December discussion on each topic.
Following the December meeting, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, December 13 and 14 at a marathon location to be determined, the restoration plan will undergo an 18-20 month in-depth review by sanctuary staff, including consultation with stakeholder agencies, prior to final state and federal review.
More information on the proposed restoration plan is available at https://floridakeys.noaa.gov/blueprint/.