Posted by: reefrescue | October 3, 2009

Coral habitats may be enlarged





 By Nirvi Shah

October 1, 2009

Coral habitats may be enlarged

It was a huge victory last year for coral reef preservationists when the National Marine Fisheries Service designated a swath of the Florida coast as a protected area for two species of coral.

 But discovery of one species of threatened coral north of that protected region has reef advocates asking for the boundary to be pushed north — to the vocal objection of the coastal powerhouse of Palm Beach County: Palm Beach. The town objected in writing, concerned about the extra layer of review it would have to endure if the designation extended to their shores and affected beach renourishment projects.

 The fisheries service in November labeled the coast from the Dry Tortugas to the Boynton Inlet as a critical habitat for elkhorn and staghorn coral. Then, Palm Beach County Reef Rescue discovered staghorn coral farther north, director Ed Tichenor said. So his group petitioned the government to move the boundary north to the Lake Worth Inlet.

 “Our goal for moving the boundary is really for National Marine Fisheries to comply with the Endangered Species Act,” he said. The boundary “has to encompass all areas where the species is found.”

He said the original critical-habitat designation would have gone as far north as the current proposal, but the federal government backed off, saying it had no evidence the coral was growing farther north.The National Marine Fisheries Service could make a decision as early as November.

Lake Worth supports the measure. The city would become the first in the county to ban pumping sand onto the beach from offshore, if voters approve the measure in November.

Manalapan Town Manager Greg Dunham said his council hasn’t discussed the boundary change because the town historically hasn’t done any beach renourishment projects.

It’s just the way Mother Nature works,” he said.

And in South Palm Beach, Commissioner Charles McCrosson said he doesn’t think changing the designation will affect his town’s proposed project to build a breakwater about 300 feet offshore to curb the power of the waves against the beach, he said. The project hasn’t yet been approved and wouldn’t begin before the end of next year.

“We want to do everything environmentally correct,” McCrosson said. “Our hope is it will not slow down the (permitting) process.”

Disease and water quality issues are blamed for the decline of staghorn and elkhorn coral since the 1970s, the state Department of Environmental Protection has said. In 2006, the species were classified as threatened. Since 2006, the coral population has revived, although no one is sure why.

Southeast Florida’s coral reefs provide a place for more than 6,000 species of marine animals to live, generate $5.7 billion in revenue each year and provide 61,000 jobs, the state says.

Palm Beach counters that the beaches also generate billions in state revenue each year. The town also said the staghorn coral north of the existing critical habitat boundary is found in such insignificant patches that protecting the area isn’t necessary. The town wants the proposal put on hold, at the least, until its effect on beach erosion projects is evaluated.

 Tichenor said he thinks their worries are misplaced, because beach replenishment projects already must stay far from the reef — protection of which is critical to the coral population.

“I think their concerns are unfounded,” he said, but he doesn’t discount the town’s ability to squelch the proposal, so his organization began a letter-writing campaign to counteract the town’s influence. 

Tichenor noted that past campaigns helped persuade Delray Beach to stop dumping partly treated sewage into the ocean and kept the county’s only hyperbaric chamber open at St. Mary’s Medical Center. 

“The town of Palm Beach exerts a disproportionate amount of influence on Florida and national politics,” the group wrote in an e-mail encouraging support for the critical habitat to be enlarged. “Politicians do listen, when enough e-mails are sent.”

Take Action to help protect this coral. Tell the Town of Palm Beach to withdraw their objection to federal habitat protection.


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