Article Courtesy: floridatoday.com by Ted Lund | originally published March 1, 2015 | Please click HERE for original article.
Above: photo credit Florida Today file.
A North Florida non-profit proposing a National Marine Sanctuary for Northern right whales and Oculina coral that would cover more than 7,000-square miles of ocean from Jacksonville to Fort Pierce is headed back to the drawing board after having its initial application rejected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
St. Augustine-based Friends of Matanzas requested Sanctuary status in hopes of placing the region off-limits to seismic testing and other forms of oil and gas exploration. The proposed Eubalaena Oculina National Marine Sanctuary would gets its name from the whales (Eubalaena) and corals (Oculina) it would protect.
Calls to FOM were not returned Friday, but the group has since reworked its application according to NOAA’s Southeast Regional Director of Sanctuaries, Billy Causey.
“We are expecting to receive the new application with revised boundaries and additional supporting information,” Causey said. “The footprint proposed was enormous and some of it is already protected under the Magnuson Act.”
A former spokesperson for FOM — who asked not to be named — said the group isn’t working with any supporters south of Volusia County, but says she“imagines people in the area would be happy to support the cause.”
Some members of the recreational and commercial fishing communities in Brevard County, however, disagree.
Mitch Roffer, an adjunct faculty member at Florida Tech, owns and operates a Melbourne-based ocean forecasting service specializing in ocean forecasting for recreational and commercial fishermen as well as environmental monitoring for the oil and gas industry.
“This will not protect us from oil and gas exploration; these decisions come higher up than NOAA … in the Department of Commerce and the White House,” Roffer said. “And we have plenty of laws and guidelines already in place to protect the Oculina Bank and right whales.”
Bob Jones, Executive Director of the Southern Fisheries Association, a commercial fishing lobbying group, agrees.
“The Southeastern Fisheries Association — and I believe every other commercial fishing organization — is opposed to this nomination,” Jones wrote to NOAA’s Office of Marine Sanctuaries Director Dan Basta. “We are already over-regulated but are dealing with it. We suggest you investigate a program to tag and track whales like you do with great white sharks. That way, everyone would know where they are all the time. You have the technology.”
Causey said there’s no timeline on resubmission, but expects to have the new application in the next several weeks.
“At that time, we’ll start the review process again,” says Causey. “We’re looking for more detailed information on support throughout the area as well as why these resources require additional protection.”