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Florida: Marine Management Reduces Boat Groundings

Provided by Jamie Monty and Chantal Collier, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Coral Reef Conservation Program

<p>Photo credit: Dave Gilliam</p>

Photo credit: Dave Gilliam

The Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem spans 170 km along Florida’s coastline from St. Lucie Inlet at its northern limit to just south of Miami. Southeast Florida is a highly developed area.As a result, the region’s reefs are under extraordinary pressure from recreational and commercial use, coastal construction and runoff, and maritime industries.1

Three major seaports (Port of Miami, Port Everglades, and Port of Palm Beach) bring thousands of large cruise ships and cargo vessels into southeast Florida every year. These ports’ anchorage areas are located near coral reefs, and their proximity has been cited as a contributing factor in numerous ship groundings and anchor dragging cases. In the vicinity of Port Everglades alone, there were 11 known large-ship groundings and six large anchor-dragging cases between 1994 and 2006, resulting in more than 4.5 hectares (11 acres) of damaged coral reef habitat.2

In response to this threat, the Port Everglades Harbor Safety Committee convened a working group in 2007 comprised of representatives from federal, state, and county government agencies, local maritime stakeholders, and environmental organizations. The working group submitted recommendations to the United States Coast Guard to relocate the Port Everglades anchorage farther from the reefs. The Coast Guard relocated the anchorage area in March 2008, and since then no groundings have occurred in the vicinity. Building upon this success, resource management organizations are now working to address the Port of Miami anchorage area, which is located directly over a reef.

While damage from large vessels has decreased in the region, management agencies in southeast Florida are receiving increased reports of reef damage associated with smaller vessel groundings and anchoring incidents. This is likely due to the high number of recreational boats operating in the region, many of which anchor on the reef to fish, dive, and snorkel.1 On the upside, awareness of vessel impacts and reporting to management agencies by local stakeholders—primarily divers—is also on the rise.

Working with a variety of stakeholders provides government management agencies with extra “eyes and ears” on the reefs as well as additional expertise and insight, allowing for a level of management and monitoring which would not otherwise be possible with limited agency resources. These partnerships have proven valuable in addressing the ever-evolving challenges that coral reef managers face.

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  1. Johnson, D. R., Harper, D. E., Kellison, G. T. & Bohnsack, J. A. Description and Discussion of Southeast Florida Fishery Landings, 1990-2000. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-550. (2007). 

  2. Collier, C. et al. Rapid Response and Restoration for Coral Reef Injuries in Southeast Florida: Guidelines and Recommendations. 57 (Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative 2007). 

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