The crown jewels of the finest coral reefs in North America are much closer to protection from fishing impacts after a critical vote today by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The Council overwhelmingly approved a 186-square mile Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Dry Tortugas area of the lower Florida Keys. The reserve will include the most spectacular coral formations and reef fish spawning sites known on the continent. Today's vote caps a ten-year process by a variety of government agencies and conservation groups to win protection for the area and follows unanimous approval of the reserve by two advisory panels to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
"This historic vote helps create an underwater equivalent of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park," said Ken Lindeman, a senior scientist with Environmental Defense. "Years of comments from the public, private groups, and scientists molded final reserve boundaries that will protect these unique coral reefs for future generations."
Today's vote solidifies overwhelming administrative and public support and was viewed by many as the key hurdle to establishing the marine reserve. "We congratulate the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council for their hard work and insight on this issue," said Pam Baker, an Environmental Defense scientist. "This vote and the prior unanimous approval of diverse advisory panels clearly demonstrate the broad support for this critical protected area."
"Environmental Defense helped to bring fishermen more directly into the process and generated important new research information on spawning," said Billy Causey, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. "These combined actions positively influenced the final reserve design."