Posted by: reefrescue | October 5, 2009

Reef Rescue floods Palm Beach officials with emails pushing coral protection zone


Daily News Staff Writer

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Palm Beach County Reef Rescue formed in 2003 after a group of scuba divers and environmentalists rallied to force the City of Delray Beach to close a sewage pipe that was spewing partially treated outflow into the ocean.

The divers had noticed algae blooms sprouting on a coral reef near the pipe outfall, and contended it was killing the reef.

Reef Rescue’s campaign of opposition — including “Surf the Sewer” T-shirts the nonprofit group sold to Delray residents — yielded results. The city agreed in 2006 to close the pipe, and did so April 1.

“The reason they did was our email campaign, and public relations campaign, to let everyone know what they were doing,” Reef Rescue Director Ed Tichenor said Friday. “It was not unlike what we’re doing today with the Town of Palm Beach.”

In less than two weeks, Reef Rescue has flooded Town Hall with 400 emails calling on the town to drop its opposition to federal habitat protection for staghorn coral found off the town’s coast. Many of the emails were from out-of-town scuba divers who signed on to a form letter Reef Rescue provided on its Web site.

“We have an email list of several thousand people and we ask other groups to forward it,” Tichenor said. “The scuba diving network is worldwide, and Palm Beach County is a top diving destination.”

The group stepped up pressure last week with a press conference and dive trip publicizing its discovery of a reported 80-foot-by-30-foot patch of the coral in waters about a mile offshore from the Bath & Tennis Club.

Reef Rescue says the find proves the staghorn coral can thrive in local waters. Staghorn coral has been protected by the federal Endangered Species Act since 2006.

Reef Rescue has petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to extend the northern boundary of a critical habitat zone for the coral from the Boynton Inlet 15 miles north to the Palm Beach Inlet.

The fisheries service has said it will announce its decision Jan. 6.

The subject has raised questions about how a protected zone might affect the town’s plans to continue to dredge offshore sand and periodically rebuild its eroded beaches.

Town officials have been reluctant to discuss their opposition in that context, but haven’t denied that it is a concern. Coastal Systems International, a town consultant, has said the habitat designation would lengthen environmental reviews for beach fills without adding substantial protection for the coral.

Before Reef Rescue announced its discovery of a staghorn coral field, the town had argued there wasn’t enough of the coral to justify the habitat protection. The town has now asked Reef Rescue for the dive coordinates so it can inspect the coral patch itself.

Tichenor insists that a critical habitat designation wouldn’t interfere with future beach nourishments because of existing protections attached to environmental permits.

On Friday, he vowed to keep up the pressure on the town. “We’ve had several thousand hits on our Web site since we sent out an action alert last Thursday,” he said.

Tichenor said he also networks through Facebook, and that Reef Rescue has dozens of postings on the Internet video site YouTube. A recent posting, entitled “Palm Beach opposes Coral Protection,” shows pictures of some of the island’s spectacular homes, then flashes to images of marine life thriving above a reef, followed by a dreary scene of a beach fill — a pipe spewing slurry onto a gray shore.

Overlaid text explains that Palm Beach, “one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S.,” opposes coral protection because it will interfere with its beach nourishments.

Tichenor hinted that Reef Rescue may also have a Palm Beach T-shirt campaign up its sleeve. The town’s objection was a staff decision that is likely to come before the Town Council for public discussion and a possible policy decision, several council members said in interviews for this story.

Earlier this year, the town was denied a state environmental permit to rebuild Reach 8 after environmentalists challenged the quality and quantity of the sand the town proposed to use.

It was a stinging defeat. The town spent $3.6 million on engineering, legal and other costs in a quest for a coastal protection that never occurred.

Before the permit was denied, the Town Council rejected the environmental petitioners’ offer to negotiate a more modest nourishment.

Council President David Rosow and Councilman Richard Kleid said the town must base its decisions on facts, not pressure from email campaigns. But most council members said the town has no choice but to reach out to its challengers.

Councilman Robert Wildrick suggested Reef Rescue be asked to appear before the town’s Shore Protection Board.

“Moving forward, we have to work with the environmentalists,” he said. “Too many of our efforts have led to litigation and permit attempts that weren’t always successful, as opposed to building a solution.”

Councilman William Diamond said the council should hire a consultant for advice.

“This is very serious,” he said. “We don’t want a repeat of Reach 8. The amount of money on the line is enormous.”

Councilwoman Gail Coniglio has emailed Tichenor in hopes of starting a dialogue.

“We can no longer draw a line in the sand and say, ‘I’m right, and you’re wrong,'” she said. “We have to work together.”

Tichenor said he’s already responded to the overture.

“I’d be happy to talk,” he said. “They have nothing to fear. This [recent coral] find gives them a way out” from the town’s opposition to extending the protection zone.

Otherwise, he said, “we’re going to keep cranking up the heat.”

Click Here to Take Action Now

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



  1. […] Reef Rescue floods Palm Beach officials with emails pushing coral protection zone […]

  2. Hello, My name is Jodi L. Westendorf and I have been involved in reef protection for over 30 years. I support many causes to help ensure the health of coral reefs here in South Florida, as well as around the world. I was founder and President of the Coral Reef Foundation Inc. back in the early 1990’s to mid ’90’s. Our grass-roots non-profit organization was responsible for placing the first 28 mooring buoys offshore of the Upper Keys, from Pickles reef to Alligator reef. Jean-Michele Cousteau himself, helped me to sponsor and place the first mooring buoy on Cheeca Rocks in the State waters offshore of Islamorada. This was all accomplished prior to any Federal protection of these reefs. I was heavily involved with John Halas, Bill Causey and NOAA on many important projects and the Mooring Buoy commission meetings. With local, international and corporate sponsors, as well as several fund raisers, we successful protected areas in both State and Federal water and historical wreck sites. At the time, I had a dive center/charter business and observed first hand the devasting effect that careless treatment of our off-shores’ most valuable asset was being abused…through the lack of proper knowledge by boaters, tourists, runoff from South FL farming and others, the reefs were in a very fragile state. Waiting for government protection would surely come to late. Through the years each area that had early protection and programs to help educate the public in general, showed remarkable improvement. I am now retired, but very involved with the Coral Restoration Foundation Inc.another non-profit organization program here in the Keys. The reefs off-shore of Palm Beach must be protected, as they are in danger without care and understanding of how important their role is to the fragile Eco-balance of the entire reef track to all of South Florida. Establishing an area of critical habitat is necessary for the survival of the species ranging in Florida from the Keys north to Palm Beach.It is my understanding that the Town of Palm Beach objects to such protection. Saying the protected area would interfere with the town’s beach enrichment projects. In November 2008, NMFS issued its final critical habitat designation, excluding the Town of Palm Beach. Reef Rescue has challenged the final critical habitat boundaries by filing a formal petition asking the feds to revise the area to include the stag horn reefs off Palm Beach, as was originally proposed. Another objection has been issued by Palm Beach reiterating reef protection interferes with the town’s beach projects and the insignificant number of stag horn corals off their coast do not warrant habitat protection. This is just plain WRONG! I implore you to revise your way of thinking about this decision. There are many other options to consider in order to keep and maintain the beauty of both the reefs and beaches in your area. The Keys has grown so fast in the past 2 decades, we now enjoy both beautiful properties on shore and the finest diving, fishing and snorkeling in the entire USA and attracts tourists from every corner of the world. Tourism to the reefs means good business and economic strength to our precious and unique place in the world. Ignoring the importance of maintaining a healthy reef system, slowly destroys the possibilities for future generation to appreciate what we have taken for granted for far too long. Millions of dollars and taxes stay here due to our world-class appeal that our area has to offer. Again, I ask you to consider carefully the impact that ignoring the reefs offshore of Palm Beach would be.
    Sincerely, Jodi L. Westendorf (PADI Master Instructor, Volunteer for the Coral Restoration Foundation Inc. non-profit, Key Largo, FL)

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