A Blueprint Built on Public Feedback

Guest blog post by Sarah Fangman, Superintendent, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Posted as a courtesy for the Florida Keys Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Superintendent Sarah Fangman kayaking in the Florida Keys.

It’s been almost three years since NOAA introduced the concept of Restoration Blueprint, a plan for restoring the diminished habitat of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  The rollout, you may recall, offered four options, which generated nearly 30,000 public comments. That feedback has now been distilled into the next iteration of the plan, referred to as the Proposed Rule, which was released on July 12. Emphasis is on the word “proposed,” because the recommendations are not yet final.  We want, and need, your input on this latest rendering.  We also ask for your sense of compromise.

The public generally views regulations through their unique and personal lens: “How will this affect what I do?”  NOAA doesn’t have that luxury, because the sanctuary belongs to everyone. We have gathered a myriad of perspectives and calibrated them into a plan that best protects the ecosystem, while also allowing compatible use. That formula will naturally conflict with someone’s priorities.

It’s important to remember that NOAA did not exclusively generate the ideas for Restoration Blueprint.  The majority came from you:  The Sanctuary Advisory Council, which represents various stakeholder groups; volunteers; community members; agency partners; and everyone who wrote in or provided comment during the initial rollout.  The Proposed Rule is a community-driven project and, as such, reflects the diverse needs of the community.

The degree to which we acted on public comment is reflected in the things you will see in the proposals, and by the things you don’t see—the options that were left on the cutting room floor.  We take seriously our obligation to receive and utilize public comment. I encourage you to educate yourself on the plan by viewing our suite of materials at FloridaKeys.noaa.gov/blueprint, and then come prepared to provide another round of feedback during five scheduled sessions, including one virtual opportunity.

This is a critical time for the marine environment of the Florida Keys, a tipping point one might say, and we have to rise to that occasion and be brave and bold and potentially sacrifice a bit now for the benefit of its future. Better to bend than to break, for in the latter scenario, no one wins.

Some will say we did too much, while some will say we did too little.  If the feedback strikes that balance, then we probably threaded the needle, and have a proposal that reflects everyone giving a little on behalf of the greater good.