Florida Keys coral reef- updates

I attended and spoke at the latest Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting. The FKMSAC is in charge of managing the Florida Keys coral reef protected areas and other critical ecology issues.

The video below is almost 4 hours long. If you would like to hear what I had to say you can skip to 3:46:30 or so. Everything I said was formulated on the fly. I felt good about bringing attention to issues that had not been addressed. I also felt that I represented a portion of the community that relies on healthy waterways for their livelihood. No matter how hard I try I can’t separate my emotions from this issue. I feel I owe everything I have to these waterways and mother nature in general. This is not just an income for me. Being connected to the oceans and being able to share that with others has become a way of life. I will work to preserve this way of life or die trying!

Keep reading to find out what is going on with the Florida Keys coral reef and other important wildlife/wild areas.

Florida Keys coral reef update

Scientists from NOAA and the FKNMS have been out assessing the state of the Florida Keys coral reefs, post-Irma. Please read the following article if you would like to learn more- NOAA partners asses coral reef damage

Florida Keys- wildlife and habitat recovery

Although most conservation efforts are focused on Florida Keys coral reef, it is important that other critical habitat areas are given their due diligence. The mangroves, sea grass beds and sponge habitats help to promote the overall health of the ecosystem. These “support” habitats represent an intrinsic piece of the puzzle. If you care about the Florida Keys coral reef then logically you should also care for the surrounding habitats!

Most of the discussion at the meeting revolved around removing marine debris after hurricane Irma. Debris removal is a monumental task in the Florida Keys post- Hurricane Irma . They are hoping to organize a Keys wide task force to tackle this problem. There is a lot of talk about getting visitors involved in the clean up process thru “eco-voluntourism”. Discussion also focused on recovery plans for endangered wildlife that inhabit the Florida Keys coral reef and surrounding areas.

For more general information about Florida Keys Coral reefs and wildlife please browse my blog posts here!

Key Deer

    The Key Deer are an iconic species for the Florida Keys. This smaller version of the white tail deer evolved in the islands of the Keys over 13,000 years ago. They have survived MANY hurricanes before humans even inhabited the Florida Keys. The Key deer inhabit the islands adjacent the to Florida Keys coral reef. Daniel Clark, refuge manager at Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex provided updates about the status of habitats and wildlife post-hurricane Irma.
    Daniel seemed to have a very positive outlook for key deer recovery after Hurricane Irma. According to Clark, the deer experienced a loss of 15% of their population last year, due to the screwworm outbreak. They believe the population decrease due to Hurricane Irma is also about 15%.The Refuge has confidence that the key deer will persevere, although 30% population decrease in two years is a bit alarming. Daniel reported that there are about 960 Key deer left, according to their latest counts. There were 21 confirmed key deer deaths directly related to Hurricane Irma.

    Fresh drinking water was a big issue for wildlife post- Irma. Many wildlife watering holes were flooded with storm surge and were too salty to drink after the storm. The Refuge has been encouraging community members to leave out fresh water for key deer and other wildlife. With a little help from the Refuge complex and the community it looks like our key deer will live to see the next storm!

Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit

Experts seem a little more unsure about the effects of hurricane Irma on the endangered, Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit. There have been very few sightings of marsh rabbits in the lower Keys since Hurricane Irma. Scientist plan to collect more data on populations but it will take time to gather all the information. Unfortunately, the Marsh rabbit has been in decline due to habitat destruction. In addition to habitat loss a lack of wildlife corridors to connect critical habitats has also been a major contributor to their decline. There are major concerns about the population. Especially since the majority of their critical habitats include some of the areas that were most effected by Hurricane Irma.

Florida Keys tree-cactus

The Florida Keys tree cactus is one of our lesser known endangered species. These rare plants have been suffering from habitat loss due to development. Many of the tree- cactus’ critical habitats were inundated with salt water during hurricane Irma. FWC and the Florida Keys wildlife refuge have yet to survey the tree cactus to see how it fared.

Vessels down

The coast guard has been working tirelessly with the FWC to remove the many downed vessels from canals, inshore waters and Florida Keys coral reefs. Their top priorities are removing vessels that are sheening(leaking oil, fuel or other environmentally hazardous materials). Their 2nd priority goes to vessels that are blocking channels, canals, harbors and impede normal navigation. There were an estimated 1600 vessels that sunk due to hurricane Irma. Of the 1600 downed vessels, 200 were in Boot Key Harbor, here in Marathon. They have already removed 140 vessels from Boot Key Harbor and plan to complete the clean up at Boot Key and move to other top priority areas from there.

Lost Lobster Traps

Commercial lobster season was in full swing in the weeks leading up to Hurricane Irma. The state of Florida has an estimated 465,000 lobster traps, 350,000 of those traps are located in Monroe County. As a result of the storm Monroe County lost an estimated 150,500 lobster traps due to winds and storm surge. With the help of Sea Grant Monroe county utilized planes to survey the county. GPS enabled photos were taken and they are able to identify whose traps are where and begin the retreival process. These traps can be a huge hazard for marine life and boaters. Experts observed “rapid recovery” of traps with the start of stone crab season. While commercial operators are laying and picking up stone crab traps they are retrieving and returning stray lobster traps.