Department of the Interior

Office of the Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 5, 2006
Contact: Hugh Vickery, DOI
(202) 501-4633
Dan Kimball, NPS
(305) 242-7712

Acting Secretary Scarlett Announces Proposal to Create Research Natural Area to Protect Marine Resources in Dry Tortugas National Park

In coordination with the State of Florida, Acting Secretary of the Department of the Interior Lynn Scarlett today announced the proposed creation of a Research Natural Area in Dry Tortugas National Park to protect important spawning and nursery grounds for fish stocks.
 “Dry Tortugas National Park and the Tortugas region play a critical role in the function and dynamics of the larger Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem,” Scarlett said. “The Research Natural Area will protect a pristine area, provide a sanctuary for species that have been affected by harvesting or habitat degradation, and foster scientific research.  This is a significant step forward in protecting and restoring marine resources in the Florida Keys.”

Recreational fishing and other consumptive activities will not be allowed in the 46-square-mile area. Boaters will be required to use mooring buoys. Fifty-four percent of the park will remain open for recreational fishing. 

In making her first announcement since assuming the role of Acting Secretary, Scarlett noted that the establishment of the Research Natural Area will also support the multi-billion dollar fishing and tourism industry in the Florida Keys and help fish populations along the Southeast coast.

 The Research Natural Area complements the adjacent Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which has similar goals and regulations, including constraints on fishing and anchoring.

The proposal is supported by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which reviewed and approved the proposed regulations at a meeting on February 2, 2006.

“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission supports the proposed closed area in the park because these diverse shallow-water habitats will complement the deeper habitats of the adjacent Tortugas Ecological Reserve, important reef fish species will benefit from protection from harvest, and the resulting increase in species diversity and abundance is expected to benefit the Tortugas, the Florida Keys and beyond,” said the Commission’s Chairman Rodney Barreto. “While we agree with a closure to fishing and its scientific importance, we must also ensure the objectives of a fishing closure are met and we will monitor this area closely for progress and success.”

“The management plan will not only safeguard Florida’s sensitive marine environment, it will also make available the unique natural, cultural and historical significance of the Dry Tortugas to researchers, scientists and outdoor enthusiasts alike,” said Florida Department of Environmental Secretary Colleen M. Castille. “Setting aside areas for science and education as well as recreational enjoyment will ensure the resources are managed in a way that preserves for generations an exceptional part of North America’s most extensive coral reef.”

            The National Park Service published the proposal in the Federal Register today. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days.

The proposed regulations will be available to the public for review in the Federal Register reading room on April 6 and be published in the Federal Register on April 7. They would effectuate Public Law 102-555, which established Dry Tortugas National Park, and implement actions identified in the Park’s 2000 Final General Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement.  A key purpose of the management plan is to protect, restore, and enhance the marine resources of the park by implementing a Research Natural Area.  

The National Park Service will fully consider all public comments, respond to substantive comments, obtain the approval of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission if significant modifications in the regulations are required, and obtain the concurrence of the Florida Governor and Cabinet on the proposed final regulations. Additional background on this regulatory process is provided below.  

The public is invited to submit comments, identified by the number RIN 1024-AD45, by any of the following methods:

  • A public meeting will be held to receive oral and written comments on May 17, 2006 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel, Key Largo, Florida. A brief presentation will be given at 6:15 p.m. Park staff will be on hand to provide information on the regulatory process.
  • Federal rulemaking portal:  Follow the instructions for submitting comments. 
  • E-mail National Park Service at  Use RIN 1024-AD45 in the subject line.
  • Mail or hand delivery to: Superintendent, Everglades National Park, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead,  FL 33034-6733.
  • Fax to:  (305) 242-7711

Comments must be received or postmarked by June 8, 2006.  Copies of the draft regulations, FGMPA/EIS and Record of Decision may be reviewed or downloaded from the Park’s website at http://www.Park

To receive a copy of the draft regulations, FGMPA or ROD by mail, or for more information on the regulatory process, please contact Bonnie Foist at 305-242-7739 or Brien Culhane at 305-242-7717.

The following information provides background and details on this unique and complex federal/state regulatory process:

During the preparation of the Final General Management Plan Amendment, the State of Florida indicated to the Department of the Interior that it claimed title to submerged lands located within the Park. These lands are also claimed by the United States.  Rulemaking to implement the FGMPA has been delayed pending resolution of this issue.

Rather than addressing this issue through potentially protracted litigation, the State and DOI entered into a “Management Agreement for Certain Submerged Lands in Monroe County, Florida, Located within Dry Tortugas National Park” that was approved by the Florida Governor and Cabinet on August 9, 2005 and by the Secretary of the Interior on December 20, 2005. This document may be viewed on the Park’s website at http://Park

 A Florida Department of Environmental Protection statement on the approval of the management agreement is available on its website at .
The proposed regulations are consistent with the requirements of the Management Agreement which stipulates that the National Park Service shall submit proposed regulations to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for review and obtain the concurrence of the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (Governor and Cabinet) regarding that portion of the regulations pertaining to the management of submerged lands within the Park.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the proposed regulations on February 2, 2006 and described the rationale for this action on its website at The Commission will review the draft final regulations and following concurrence of the Governor and Cabinet, the National Park Service will publish the final regulations in the Federal Register.

The agreement also provides that the National Park Service and the State will work together to implement a research and monitoring program for the Park's marine ecosystem, to coordinate this work with similar efforts by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and to provide a status report on the fisheries and activities to implement the agreement at least every five years to the Board of Trustees. Once final, the regulations shall be reviewed at least every five years, and as appropriate, revised and reissued based upon the results of the research program and information contained in the status report.  Information and data collected regarding the effectiveness and performance of the Research Natural Area will also be reviewed and evaluated.  Under adaptive management, the National Park Service may consider changes in the Research Natural Area, including boundary adjustments and modifications to the protection and conservation management strategies applicable to the Research Natural Area.