Mixed Bag of South Florida News: If You Care About the Everglades and Florida Keys, Read This

Well, there’s some important fishing-related news coming out of Florida. First, NOAA is proposing an expansion to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) boundaries. While on the cover this seems like a productive action for the Florida Keys, an expansion could have an adverse effect for fishing access and related industries. Speaking of Florida water issues, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced, earlier this month, that key leases previously held by Florida Crystals (big sugar company) will be terminated, paving the way for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project. There’s a lot to unpack here so follow along.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) has been a divisive, controversial subject for years now. The FKNMS, in its current size, spans 3,800 square miles throughout the Florida Keys. Established in 1990, the FKNMS has operated under this purpose, “to protect the resources of [designated area], to educate and interpret for the public regarding the Florida Keys marine environment, and to manage such human uses of the Sanctuary consistent with this Act.” But NOAA wants to now expand the established FKNMS.

Under the FKNMS Draft Environmental Impact Statement, there are four outlined alternatives: “Alternative 1 (no action); Alternative 2 (slightly more environmentally protective); Alternative 3 (preferred alternative, with many actions identical to Alternative 2 or progressively more environmentally protective); and Alternative 4 (many actions identical to alternatives 2 and 3 or progressively more environmentally protective).” On a deeper dive, the NOAA preferred Alternative 3 would add 741 square miles to the sanctuary, but of more concern are the proposed marine zones and increase no-entry areas.

The Lower Keys proposal under Alternative 3

Many guides in the area are expressing concern about these proposed actions. Why you might ask? Well its not the spirit of this proposed action. Guides understand the need for conservation and ecological restoration–their livelihoods literally depend on healthy marine ecosystems. But they are worried that these areas subject to this proposed action will be lost irrevocably, regardless of any actualized restoration. Guides–and most fishermen–are the ultimate stewards of our environments; and while many guides do understand the importance of marine sanctuaries, they are wary about the expansion of these areas, along with the added loss of access. Additionally, stakeholders in Southern Florida bring up another point: why even bother with these marine sanctuaries, when the ongoing water crisis caused by chronic mismanagement has not been corrected and is the cause for the habitat degradation?

This point relates to the second development: Governor DeSantis announced key leases previously held by Florida Crystals (big sugar company) will be terminated, and the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir project can begin. Governor DeSantis has been very influential in moving the needle for the Reservoir project. He installed a more environmentally-focussed water board and is now spearheading restoration efforts. For more information on Governor DeSantis, check out this MeatEater article. The transfer of this land is one of the biggest developments in the decades’ long fight over water in South Florida.  The battle to fix South Florida’s water issues is not done, however; Governor DeSantis now has to deal with the United States Congress to secure funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir project.

In any event, this is great news for all those who hold Florida’s fisheries dear. The Everglades and Keys are truly special places, but they need our help to prosper and survive. Even in light of the disputes over the proposed FKNMS expansion, fishermen and other stakeholders are excited for progress in the Everglades.

For more information on the FKNMS, you can dig through the proposed alternatives and make up your own mind through this link. Also be sure to check out Captains for Clean Water! They are tirelessly advocating for sound management of South Florida’s water to restore the Everglades and Florida Keys–plus, they’re some of our favorite fishing guides too!

This article was written by Flylords’ Conservation Editor, Will Poston

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