Dry Tortugas National Park (DRTO) is a unique tropical marine environment of national significance, renown for its productive coral reef ecosystem, diverse natural resources, broad recreational fishing opportunities, and spectacular scenic beauty. The Dry Tortugas and the Florida Keys support multibillion dollar fishing and tourism industries in south Florida, including economically important fisheries for pink shrimp, lobster, reef fish (snapper-grouper complex), kingfish, and Spanish mackerel. Over the past several decades, public use of and conflicts over fishery resources have increased sharply, while catches from historically productive snapper and grouper stocks have declined (Bohnsack et al. 1994; Ault et al. 1997, 1998, 2001). Continued explosive regional human population growth in south Florida has raised serious concerns about the future of these precious fishery resources. Recent quantitative assessments of the Florida Keys multispecies reef fish community have shown that exploitation levels are very high, that many stocks are “overfished’, and that overfishing has been clearly evident since the late 1970's (Ault et al. 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002. 2005a). The gradient of exploitation effects observed was highest in the northern Keys near human population centers to least in the Tortugas region (Ault et al. 2002). This suggests that the upstream Dry Tortugas region, due to its relatively great distance from ports and attendant lower levels of fishing effort, has de facto supported the broader Florida Keys reef fishery for more than two decades with larvae and export of adult biomass. The combination of rapidly growing human populations, overfishing, habitat degradation, and changes in regional water quality from Everglades “restoration” makes the Keys region an “ecosystem-at-risk” as one of the nation’s most significant, yet most stressed, marine resource regions under management of NOAA, the National Park Service (NPS), and the State of Florida. A series of management actions, begun in the early- to mid-1980’s, included establishing size, season, and bag limits on a number of species.
In November 2006, the Florida governor and cabinet approved implementation of a management plan for a Research Natural Area (RNA) or no-take marine reserve in the Dry Tortugas National Park (DTNP) to become effective in January 2007. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also concurred with the proposed National Park Service regulations related to marine fishing in the park. In 2001 no-take marine reserves (NTMRs) covering approximately 566 km2 were established in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary waters near Dry Tortugas National Park. The park’s new RNA, coupled with marine reserves in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is designed to protect precious coral reefs, fishery, and cultural resources, and to ensure sustainability of intensely exploited regional reef fisheries resources — benefiting the Tortugas, the Florida Keys and beyond. To monitor and evaluate baseline conditions of coral reef resources in and around DTNP, this program focused on two primary areas of research: (1) fishery-independent monitoring of coral reef fishes, coral reefs, and macro-invertebrates in DTNP; and, (2) an acoustic telemetry tracking study of reef fishes to determine population flux rates in open areas and fully-protected marine reserves.
Ault, J.S., J.A. Bohnsack and G.A. Meester. 1997. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: retrospective (1979–1995) assessment of reef fish and the case for protected marine areas. Pages 385–395 in D.A. Hancock, D.C. Smith, A. Grant, and J.P. Beumer, eds. Developing and sustaining world fisheries resources: the state of science and management. Proceedings of the Second World Fisheries Congress. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Ault, J.S., J.A. Bohnsack and G.A. Meester. 1998. A retrospective (1979-1996) multispecies assessment of coral reef fish stocks in the Florida Keys. Fishery Bulletin 96(3):395-414.
Ault, J.S., J.A. Bohnsack and S.G. Smith. 2005a. Towards sustainable multispecies fisheries in the Florida USA coral reef ecosystem. Bulletin of Marine Science 76(2):595-622.
Ault, J.S., S.G. Smith, G.A. Meester, J. Luo and J.A. Bohnsack. 2001. Site characterization for Biscayne National Park: assessment of fisheries resources and habitats. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-468. 185 p.
Ault, J.S., S.G. Smith, J. Luo, G.A. Meester, J.A. Bohnsack and S.L. Miller. 2002. Baseline multispecies coral reef fish stock assessment for the Dry Tortugas. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-487. 117 p.
Bohnsack, J.A. 1998. Application of marine reserves to reef fisheries management. Australian Journal of Ecology 23: 298-304.
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Bohnsack, J.A., D.E. Harper and D.B. McClellan. 1994. Fisheries trends from Monroe County, Florida. Bulletin of Marine Science 54:982–1018.
DOC (Department of Commerce). 1996. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: Final management plan/environmental impact statement, Vol. 1. Sanctuaries and Reserves Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 319 p.
Culhane, B. 2002. A new era for marine resource protection at Dry Tortugas and the Florida Keys. Pages 30–32 in J. Selleck, ed. Natural Resource Year in Review—2001. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Lakewood, CO.
NPS (National Park Service). 2000. Dry Tortugas National Park general management plan amendment/environmental impact statement. Homestead, Florida.