Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is the newest and most ambitious of legal measures to protect the coral reef in the Florida Keys. After some years of protecting the reef with existing parks and sanctuaries, it became apparent by 1990 that more protection was needed in some areas. There were a series of large vessel groundings in the late 1980's, and hundreds of square meters were destroyed. Other concerns included water quality in Florida Bay and in the residential canal systems, both of which were seeing sewage disposal, a result of increased population in the general Keys area. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the entire coral reef system throughout the Keys, as well as designates extra protection areas for particularly sensitive spots such as popular dive reefs like Conch Reef and Looe Key. This entire marine sanctuary does incorporate older existing sanctuaries, but the older ones remain intact with their special rules and regulations.
Scuba divers will want to know about the Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAS), since these SPAS exist around the most popular reefs. SPAS have mooring buoys so you don't have to anchor on the coral (in fact, if divers do anchor, you're required to dive down and make sure the anchor is not sitting in or on the coral. Of course you can't touch the coral either, but definitely not an anchor). SPAs usually don't allow fishing within their borders. There are eighteen of them, and they are marked by large yellow buoys, hard to miss. They're on navigational charts, too.
There are also four research areas, where you can hardly do anything...no fishing and no diving. These areas are:
Then we have the Ecological Reserve zone near Western Sambo, and another one near the Dry Tortugas. These Ecological Reserves, along with the SPAs, have the tightest rules.
- Eastern Sambo
- Looe Key
- Conch Reef
- Tennessee Reef
Here's a Summary of Rules
- No anchoring in the coral
- No touching the coral
- Don't remove historical items
- Idle your engine near stationary vessels, shoreline, shallow reefs, and diver flags
- No littering
- Don't run aground or scar the ocean floor with your prop
- No spearfishing, except in a few designated areas
- Display a dive flag with you are scuba diving or snorkeling