NOAA 2001-076
Contact: Stephanie Balian

NOAA Extends Additional Protection to Coral Reefs

The National Ocean Service, an agency of the Commerce Department's NOAA, announced today that the Tortugas Ecological Reserve becomes the nation's largest permanent marine reserve effective July 1. Located more than seventy miles west of Key West, Fla., the new reserve is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and encompasses more than 150 square nautical miles of spectacular deepwater corals and critical fish spawning sites.

"We are proud of our partnership with the state of Florida and the numerous groups that came together to make this a reality," said Commerce Secretary Don Evans. "The Tortugas Ecological Reserve is a shining example of what can happen when diverse interests come together to accomplish a common goal -- in this case, the preservation of a spectacular ocean ecological environment in the Florida Keys."

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 that included commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, conservationists, researchers, government representatives and other concerned citizens designed the reserve after studying ecological and socioeconomic data for the region and agreeing on goals.

Florida's governor and cabinet gave their unanimous approval to include state waters in the reserve on April 24, 2001. "The dedication of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve moves Florida into the forefront of ocean conservation," said Governor Jeb Bush. "I'm proud that Floridians have worked together to create a reserve that will provide a productive spawning nursery for fisheries along the entire coast and protect our state's precious ocean resources for the future."

The ecological reserve, which consists of two areas -- Tortugas North and Tortugas South -- now fully protects all marine life, including fish, coral and invertebrates, such as shrimp and lobster. Tortugas North remains open to diving, and the sanctuary has installed mooring buoys to protect the fragile coral reefs from anchor damage. Tortugas South is open only to vessels in transit, and to researchers and educators holding a sanctuary permit. Sanctuary boundaries now encompass the coral reef areas Sherwood Forest and Riley's Hump, permitting the sanctuary to address anchor damage and water pollution from vessel discharges in these sensitive areas.

"By extending the highest level of protection to the productive waters of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, we are helping to ensure the health of the entire region," said Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Billy Causey. "The reefs of the Tortugas are stunning and filled with life. Our hope is to preserve the waters of the reserve and maintain a pristine marine environment for the scores of fish and coral reefs that thrive within its boundaries."

For more information on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, visit the Sanctuary's Web page at or call (305) 743-2437.

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