Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), established in 1990 by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act (The Act), sets aside approximately 2800 square miles of delicate reef and sea bottom areas that could be damaged by excessive or careless use. The largest living coral reef in the United States forms a protective barrier reef for the Florida Keys at the southern tip of Florida. The sanctuary encompasses most of the barrier reef adjacent to the Florida Keys, and designated sensitive areas from the Atlantic Ocean to the Dry Tortugas.
The purpose of the sanctuary is to protect this diverse marine ecosystem, yet allow recreational activities and sustainable uses. The proximity of the reef to early European shipping lanes produced a high concentration of shipwrecks. To protect the habitat, anchorage is prohibited, and removing or damaging corals, taking protected marine species, or disturbing artifacts from wrecks are also forbidden. Lignum Vitae Key Aquatic Preserve and Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve, both established by the State of Florida, are included in the sanctuary. Specific protected areas are:
• Sand Key, Rock Key, Looe Key and Marker 32
• The Eastern Dry Rocks and Snapper Ledge
• Western Sambo and Eastern Sambo
• Cheeca Rocks, 9 Foot Stake, Dry Rocks and The Elbow
• Newfound Harbor Key and Sombrero Key
• Coffins Patch, Hen and Chickens, and Grecian Rocks
• All of the patch reefs listed below:
• Ajax Reef
• Alligator Reef
• Conch Reef
• Crocker Reef
• Carysfort Reef
• Davis Reef
• Molasses Reef
• French Reef
• Pacific Reef
• Pickles Reef
• Pacific Reef
• Turtle Reef
The marine ecosystem within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is vital to Florida tourism and commercial fishing andndash; the economic lifeblood of the Florida Keys. Over four million domestic and foreign visitors come to the Florida Keys annually. Tourism, and a local commercial fishing industry which brings in more than 20 million pounds of seafood and marine products yearly support 80,000 full-time residents. The FKNMS is a joint effort by the State of Florida and the federal government to protect the marine environment while allowing sustainable sport and commercial fishing, diving, and other tourist oriented activities in protected regions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is responsible for management and oversight of the FKNMS.
Protected areas are well marked with distinctive mooring buoys and channel markers designating the sanctuary boundaries. The islands, reefs, fringing mangroves, seagrass meadows, patch reefs and bank reefs in the sanctuary are healthy and robust because of the protection afforded by the the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act. Tourism, sport fishing and commercial fishing are thriving industries as commerce and environmental protection work hand-in-hand in the Florida Keys.