NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary proposes the creation of a research area to better evaluate effects of human activities, including fishing, on sanctuary resources. Under the proposed rule, fishing and diving would be prohibited in the research area. Transit across the area would be permitted provided that vessels do not stop.
The proposed research area boundary encompasses 8.27 square miles, roughly the southern third of the sanctuary. NOAA believes a research area will help managers more accurately assess possible impacts from fishing - particularly bottom fishing - on the sanctuary's natural resources by providing an area relatively free of human activities and impacts that can be compared to the rest of the sanctuary.
Currently, only hook-and-line fishing from hand-held lines is permitted at Gray's Reef. Although commercial fishing is allowed, only recreational fishing occurs in the sanctuary. The proposed closed area is an area of lighter vessel traffic and fishing effort, but contains all habitats needed to conduct research.
The research area would also allow scientists to assess the impact of natural events such as hurricanes and droughts on the sanctuary, and it could serve as a place to monitor and study impacts of climate change such as ocean acidification.
The idea for a research area in the sanctuary was first raised by members of the public in 1999 at public scoping meetings during the early stages of the sanctuary's management plan review process. A working group composed of representatives from research, academia, conservation groups, sport fishing and diving interests, education, commercial fishing, law enforcement, and state and federal agency representatives subsequently endorsed the research area concept.
NOAA is seeking comments on the draft environmental impact statement and proposed rule. Comments will be accepted until Dec. 13, and can be submitted via:
· Electronic Submissions: Submit all email comments with the subject line "0648-AV88," via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov (search for docket NOAA-NOS-2009-0103)
· Mail: Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, 10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, GA 31411, Attn: George Sedberry, Superintendent
The public can also attend the following meetings to provide input:
· Oct. 19, 6-8 p.m., Richmond Hill City Center, 529 Cedar Street, Richmond Hill, GA
· Oct. 20, 6-8 p.m., Bulloch County Courthouse, 30 N. Main Street, Statesboro, GA
· Oct. 21, 6-8 p.m., College of Coastal Georgia, Southeast Georgia Conference Center, 3700 Altama Avenue, Brunswick, GA
Copies of the draft environmental impact statement and proposed rule can be viewed online or downloaded by searching for docket # NOAA-NOS-2009-0103 at http://www.regulations.gov.
Designated in 1981, NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is one of the largest near-shore live-bottom reefs off the southeastern United States, encompassing approximately 22 square miles. The live bottom and ledge habitat support an abundant reef fish and invertebrate community. Loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species, also use Gray's Reef year-round for foraging and resting, and the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale is occasionally seen in the sanctuary.