June 12, 2017
By: Angela Smith, Shark Team One
For a number of years, I have worked with key stakeholders as well as educational and governmental groups on recommended management actions (RMAs) that propose an integrated approach for ecosystem and coral reef protection for the Southeast Florida region. The Hope Spot nomination in part was inspired by a particular action plan calling for no-take zones within a marine protected area. That RMA along with many others written by myself and other stakeholders were vetted and voted on during a process called “Our Florida Reefs,” a community planning process developed by the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (a National Action Plan to conserve coral reefs under guidance from the United States Coral Reef Task Force, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). The “Our Florida Reefs” process has been completed after a number of years, and many of the RMAs have moved into the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative process.
Our Hope Spot designation was designed to give hope and support to the people of Southeast Florida who believe, as I do, that a protected area will benefit the region and help protect the remaining live portions of the Southeast Florida coral reef tract and its associated marine life.
A Shark Team One diver gathers coral disease data on a critically endangered head of Elkhorn coral within the Hope Spot Photo: © Mike Smith, Shark Team One
Updates, Progress and News
Our Hope Spot progress since the designation has been steady and efficient with some amazing highs. We’ve encountered some valleys as well with the recent coral disease outbreak, shark mortality and backlash affiliated with no-take zones from fishing lobbyist groups. However most stakeholders are in strong favor of a marine protected area, and in meeting after meeting with all stakeholders including fishing groups represented, marine protected areas with different types of zoning remain a high priority.
Many recent happenings have helped our Hope Spot cause and we are proud to provide a partial list below. Keep in mind some activities mentioned have been years in the making, worked on by many stakeholders and groups.
- Shark Team One’s film, Tigers Sharks Fight for Survival received Honorable Mention at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival! This film inspires a greater understanding for how valuable marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries are for the survival of critical species. The short film met with great audience approval during its screening at the festival and promises to be a very effective outreach tool for our Shark and Ocean Ecosystem Protection Programs. View the trailer below.
- Since the Hope Spot designation, I was nominated and elected to be NGO Vice-Chair for the SEFCRI process. This will help facilitate future work toward coastal Southeast Florida protection at the state and federal level.
- The Southeast Florida Coastal Ocean Forum has a bill before the state aiming to provide important funding for coral disease studies and water quality monitoring. The group, led by Dr. Kenneth Banks has worked tirelessly for years and evolved to include members from a number of the above-mentioned community groups, NGOs, academic and government agencies.
- We are currently looking at severe outbreaks for at least two different types of coral disease and long-term bleaching effects of corals from the Lower Keys in the south to Martin County in the north. Every species is being effected and coral mortality is very high and fast. Shark Team One, has joined forces with SEAFAN and NOAA representatives in Southeast Florida and the Florida Keys and are reporting back to those groups with data and photography from local expeditions.
- Shark Team One’s Shark Protection Program has recently engaged in a swift action plan resulting from reports of a number of dead endangered tiger sharks and endangered great hammerheads showing up on beaches during certain fishing tournaments held in the Southeast Florida region. These large sharks are keystone species for the Coastal Southeast Florida Hope Spot and their presence in this location is one of the main reasons Southeast Florida holds such hope as a marine protected area. At least one of the tiger sharks that died from the “catch and release” tournaments was a particular shark that frequented The Bahamas National Shark Sanctuary. We know that sharks such as tigers are highly migratory, pointing out the need to protect large areas of ocean habitat and provide protection at the federal level to keep them safe. Once a shark swims out of The Bahamas National Shark Sanctuary it is fair game for commercial shark fishermen in United States Federal waters. Once the shark reaches Florida state waters, it is prohibited from harvest but not protected from destructive recreational fishing practices like catch and release. Tiger shark population numbers are so low that any loss from catch and release fishing poses a danger to this species. Confusing state rulings and loopholes in protections are killing off our endangered sharks. Shark Team One is currently working on outreach efforts, media barrages as well as proposing further enforcement solutions and rule changes at the state and federal level. Curbing destructive fishing practices and tournaments targeting endangered sharks in our Hope Spot is an extremely high priority for us. We are working to help these iconic shark species at all costs through our Shark Sanctuaries Projects and Ocean Ecosystem Protection Program.
Tiger sharks are threatened with extinction and susceptible to death after catch and release recreational fishing Photo: © Angela Smith, Shark Team One
We have been busy and we hope you are impressed with our work. The work of many, many community members is included in this update via the groups mentioned above, as well as the countless community stakeholders and Shark Team One volunteers, sponsors and staff. We hope you will join us in our mission to protect the marine ecosystems of Southeast Florida. Thank you so much for your inspiration Mission Blue! We will continue to progress and keep fighting for our endangered species and ocean resources here at the Coastal Southeast Florida Hope Spot!
Check out this ever growing list of groups that help us with the Coastal Southeast Florida Hope spot.
The next generation holds hope for our Coastal Southeast Florida Hope Spot Photo: © Angela Smith, Shark Team One