Over famous fish sandwiches at the Islamorada Fish Company and Market in the Florida Keys, I and 10 other students and professors met with Bill Goodwin, a federal government employee at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). The FKNMS, covering 2,900 square nautical miles of waters surrounding the Florida Keys, was designated on November 16, 1990.
After spending three days traveling through South Florida, we sat down to discuss the former and current restoration practices for the sanctuary’s marine environment. Bill, a Resource Manager for the FKNMS, provided a unique perspective for us on the various challenges the sanctuary has faced, as he joined the FKNMS in the early 1990s. The sanctuary has lived through opposition and environmental damage from humans and neighboring ecosystems while restoration continues to occur.
Soon after the sanctuary was designated, community organizations (e.g., fishermen, treasure hunters) attacked the government’s proposal to demonstrate their opposition. However, as time progressed, those same citizens became some of the FKNMS’ strongest proponents.
Current concerns include impacts from ships and environmental damage from neighboring ecosystems. Ships who illegally anchor within the FKNMS can swing around coral reefs, killing the corals. Environmental damage includes nutrient impacts from the Mississippi River and potential consequences from oil spills in the gulf, including the contingency plan Bill oversaw after the 2010 BP Oil Spill.
As an environmental leader, Bill works as a public servant to make certain that citizens can use the sanctuary for swimming, diving, snorkeling, and fishing activities while upholding rules and regulations that are in place to protect the ecosystem. He works to preserve and restore the FKNMS resources, including monitoring of water quality, coral reefs, and sea grass, for the benefit of the marine ecosystem and future generations’ recreational use.
As a surprise to us, Bill educated us on how FKNMS spends the majority of its time: sea grass bed restoration. Further, the FKNMS builds bird roosting stakes for birds to fertilize the sea grass, utilizing different components of the ecosystem for restoration.
After lunch, as we headed south toward Key West, we witnessed the beauty of the sanctuary on the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Highway 1. While the struggle between progress and negative impacts to restoration occur, it’s reassuring to know the FKNMS staff works hard as environmental leaders to ensure the Florida Keys ecosystem is preserved for humans and the Earth.