NOAA recently announced that the Tortugas Ecological Reserve became the nation’s largest permanent marine reserve effective July 1. The new reserve, more than 70 miles west of Key West, is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and encompasses more than 150 square nautical miles of deepwater corals and critical fish spawning sites. The Tortugas reserve joins the sanctuary’s groundbreaking network of 23 areas set aside for special protection in 1997. In a consensus process that has become a model for other efforts worldwide, a 25-member working group designed the reserve after studying ecological and socioeconomic data for the region and agreeing on goals. The working group included commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, conservationists, researchers, government representatives and other concerned citizens. Florida’s governor and cabinet gave unanimous approval to include state waters in the reserve on April 24.
For more information on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, go to http://www.fknms.nos.noaa.gov/tortugas .