Benthic Habitats and the Effects of Fishing

Symposium Abstract: Monitoring Changes in the Fully Protected Zones of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

B. D. Keller


The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a 9,850 km2 marine protected area managed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Florida. A comprehensive management plan was implemented in 1997 to protect and conserve marine resources of the Florida Keys. One aspect of the management plan is the creation of a network of 24 fully protected zones (marine reserves). An ongoing monitoring program is designed to determine effects of ‘no-take’ protection on heavily exploited fishes and invertebrates, benthic communities, and human activities. Data on the abundance and size of fish, spiny lobster, and queen conch; algal cover, diversity and recruitment; and zone usage are collected from fully protected zones and adjacent reference sites. Preliminary results indicate increases within fully protected zones in the number and size of heavily exploited species such as spiny lobster and certain reef fishes. Slower growing benthic species such as corals and sponges have not shown significant changes with fully protected zones, possibly because the zoning plan was implemented less than five years ago.