Editor’s Note: This opinion article, written by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was published Aug. 11 in Miami’s Community Newspapers.
As many of you know, I have been proud to help lead a bipartisan group of Florida’s Congressional leaders, including Democrats like Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Gwen Graham, and Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart to ensure that Biscayne National Park utilizes the best science to conserve its environmental treasures while preserving our community’s right to access and enjoy all that Biscayne has to offer. In fact, the statutory language that created the National Park Service (NPS) — the Organic Act of 1916 — is still in force today and mandates just that! The NPS, by law, must conserve the nation’s natural resources and promote the public’s use and enjoyment of those resources. The Marine Reserve Zone proposed for Biscayne National Park that would eliminate fishing in more than 10,500 acres of prime reef fishing habitat with the goal of protecting Biscayne’s vulnerable coral reefs violates not only the spirit of the Organic Act, but also fails to use the best science to design and implement successful coral reef conservation strategies.
Environmental groups supporting the Biscayne Marine Reserve Zone frequently point to the success of efforts around the Dry Tortugas as evidence for their cause. I represented the Florida Keys during the time that the two Dry Tortugas marine reserves were designed and implemented, so I am no stranger to their success. I supported the establishment of those marine reserves because they were well-designed from an ecological and fisheries management science perspective, and because of the inclusive and consensus-based planning process that garnered strong support among federal officials, state fisheries managers, environmentalists, commercial and recreational anglers and local community residents. The context surrounding the Biscayne and Dry Tortugas marine reserve proposals couldn’t be more different, and I will continue to oppose the Biscayne Marine Reserve Zone as long as it fails based on the standards set by the planning process for the Dry Tortugas reserves.
I also oppose the Biscayne Marine Reserve Zone because there is very little hard scientific evidence that fishing closures enhance coral reef health and recovery. A global study released earlier this year by Bruno and Valdivia in Nature Scientific Reports found that “coral reef degradation is not correlated with human population density” and that “local factors such as fishing or pollution are having minimal impacts.” These results are echoed in two 2014 studies from the Florida Keys. In Ecological Indicators, Cook et al. found that ecosystem impacts from fishing were significantly lower than all other pressures measured. Meanwhile, Toth et al.’s research in Coral Reefs determined that no-fishing reserves in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary “were of no perceptible benefit to Florida’s corals.”
The science is clear that local management may work well for fisheries, but it is proving wholly insufficient to save coral reefs across the world. A Marine Reserve Zone in Biscayne National Park will only serve to undermine the main economic rationale and the community consensus required to tackle the real, scientifically-identified threats impacting our coral reefs: reduced freshwater delivery, climate change, ocean acidification, coral diseases, and invasive species. That is an outcome that none of us in South Florida should want, nor one we can afford.
I urge South Floridians who truly care about saving our precious reefs to join me in advancing real solutions like my bipartisan Conserving Our Reefs and Livelihoods (CORAL) Act. Only by putting aside special interest politics, spurring scientific research into resolving the impacts these modern threats are having on our reefs, and promoting the development of cutting edge restoration technologies and techniques, can we restore resilient coral reefs to Biscayne National Park that are available for the wonderment and enjoyment of generations of South Floridians to come.