Trying to save the Florida Keys

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1997:

TALLAHASSEE––Florida governor Lawton
Chiles on January 28 approved a plan to restrict fishing and
keep large ships out of the 2,800-square-mile Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary, created by Congress in 1990 but
stalled in debate over management plans ever since. The
agreement to ban fishing in 19 specific sensitive areas completed
a pact that also includes restrictions on reckless boating,
protection of the sea grass beds that furnish habitat to
manatees, and the funding of research to find out why coral
around the Keys, forming the only living coral reef in the
Northern Hemisphere, is fast dying off.

White pox, a disease discovered last September by
University of Georgia researcher James Porter, has joined
the more familiar white plague in devastating elkhorn coral
around the Keys. It already afflicts about 25% of the coral
within the vulnerable range, three to 15 feet deep. Like
white plague, white pox attacks during the warm months.
Half of the 33 species of sea slug found in the Keys
are also declining, reports Kerry Clark of the Florida
Institute of Technology. “We know they are important to the
coral reefs,” Clark recently told Miami Herald staff writer
Cyril T. Zaneski. “They produce some of the fine adjustments
that keep the systems well-tuned.”
Sea slugs are declining even faster in the Indian
River Lagoon, far to the north, due to poor water quality,
Clark said: of the estimated 100 sea slug species found there
circa 1980, 80% to 90% are now scarce, and one, a type of
sea hare, is apparently extinct.
Deteriorating water quality could also be the problem
in the Keys, according to Clark, but whereas the Indian
River Lagoon is a heavily polluted estuary, the Keys are
washed by ocean currents and have no nearby heavy industry.
Red tides, or concentrations of toxic microorganisms
linked to pollution, killed 151 manatees in southwest
Florida during 1996. The statewide toll of 415 manatees
dead of all causes was the most since annual counts began in
1974. Boats killed 60 manatees, also a new recorded high,
and 204 died of either natural or unknown causes. The first
1997 count of live manatees found 2,229: 900 on the east
coast, 1,329 on the west, down from the record 2,639 total
found in February 1996.
Endangered Key deer were also hit hard last
year––mostly by cars, which killed 67 of the record 104
found dead, nine more than the old high of 94, reached in
1995. Officially, only 250 to 300 of the half-sized whitetailed
deer subspecies survive, but Keys residents unhappy
with low speed limits set to save the deer argue that the
known death toll of 265 over the past three years indicates a
much larger herd. However, a population turnover of close
to 100% over three years would be consistent with average
longevity in other whitetailed deer herds.
The National Key Deer Refuge was created in 1957
to save the unique subspecies, which swims, drinks brine,
and eats mangrove leaves. The estimated 35 Key deer left
then bred up to about 400 circa 1970, but the human population
of Big Pine Key, where most of the herd lives, has risen
from under 1,000 to about 5,000 since then, and development
has both multiplied traffic and cut into the deer’s range.

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