Common Sea Fans (<em>Gorgonia ventilina</em>) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Common Sea Fans (Gorgonia ventilina) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Photo: Chantal Collier

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Photo: Joe Marino

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Southeast Florida Reef News

Looking to the Future

By Chantal Collier, Manager
FDEP Coral Reef Conservation Program

As we enter 2010, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) is looking forward to the future of coral reef conservation and management in Florida. The past year marked the fifth anniversary of the FDEP CRCP and, noting this milestone, CRCP staff took the opportunity to reflect on the origins of the program, challenges, accomplishments and directions in which CRCP has grown.

When the FDEP CRCP was established in 2004, it was tasked with three primary directives:

  • facilitate completion of the goals, objectives and projects to be included in the 2004 Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) Local Action Strategy (LAS);
  • organize and facilitate SEFCRI Team implementation of SEFCRI LAS projects; and
  • support Florida’s role as a member of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF).

Today, 127 of the 140 LAS projects identified in 2004 are complete or underway, and FDEP CRCP staff now serve as the lead points of contact for Florida to the USCRTF and many of its working groups. The original intent was for the SEFCRI Team to implement the majority of the LAS projects but implementation of most projects has fallen to FDEP CRCP, with invaluable, but varying, levels of support from team members.

Since 2004, in addition to its initial directives, FDEP CRCP has been charged with new responsibilities. For instance, southeast Florida’s Reef Injury Prevention and Response Program was developed and has led the response to and, in many cases, primary restoration for, 52 grounding, anchoring and sunken vessel incidents since 2006.  Florida’s partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) CRCP and the U.S. All Islands Coral Reef Committee have expanded, increasing capacity, technical support and funding for local and national coral reef conservation efforts. Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act was developed and implemented and over a dozen successful SEFCRI LAS projects have been transitioned into permanent CRCP core programs, such as the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project and the Marine Debris Reporting and Removal Program.

With 46 concurrent SEFCRI LAS projects and 12 ongoing in-house or partnership programs underway, FDEP CRCP is also preparing to embark on what many consider to be the most important SEFCRI endeavor: the identification and recommendation of long-term management alternatives, including zoning strategies, for the coral reefs off mainland southeast Florida.  Many SEFCRI LAS projects, such as the development of benthic habitat maps, surveys of resident and visitor perceptions of reef conditions and uses, identification of vessel usage patterns and fisheries resource status, were completed. These will inform the public and decision makers participating in stakeholder working groups during 2010-2011 and subsequent public workshops in 2011-2012, and help develop an effective, balanced, comprehensive management strategy for improved protection of southeast Florida’s coral reef resources.

The FDEP CRCP has grown at an astounding rate and accomplished a great deal over a brief period.  At the same time, increasing demands on the program have generally outpaced staff capacity and resource allocations while recurring budget and staffing cuts have impacted the FDEP and many of its partners since 2007.  Additionally, priorities within the NOAA CRCP, which provides the majority of FDEP CRCP’s funding, have recently changed; and this will affect some of the types of programs and services FDEP CRCP provides in the future.

Taking stock of these past and current mandates and circumstances, and with an eye to the future, FDEP CRCP has begun drafting its Strategic Plan for 2010-2015 to sustain existing successful management programs and continue working to improve the health of southeast Florida’s coral reefs. Simultaneously, we have been working closely with other local, state and federal reef managers in Florida and the NOAA CRCP to develop management priorities for the greater Florida Reef Tract. In the coming months, we will survey and encourage input from you, our stakeholders and our partners, about what you believe the priorities for coral reef management in southeast Florida should be. We will use what we learn from you to inform the future direction of the FDEP CRCP as we set our goals and objectives for the next five years. We will also be working closely with the SEFCRI Team to change the team’s organizational structure and operational charter so that they better reflect the team’s capacity, and enhance effectiveness in developing and providing input on future SEFCRI LAS.

The Florida Reef Tract spans over 300 nautical miles (555km) along the coastline of southeast Florida, the Florida Keys and
the Dry Tortugas. Map: Brian Walker, National Coral Reef Institute

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