Alternate Title

Community Capacity Building in the Designation of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve

Document Type



The remote Tortugas region of the Florida Keys, located over 225 km from the continental United States, is an area of high coral diversity, excellent water quality, and productive fisheries. Located at the juncture of major ocean currents, the Tortugas potentially serves as a source and sink for marine larvae. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary initiated a process in 1998 to create a fully protected ecological reserve in the Tortugas to conserve these resources. Reserve design emphasized community input and consensus-based decision-making. Critical to success was a diverse working group of stakeholders and government agencies. In July 2001, after receiving extensive public comment and the necessary agency approvals for designation, the Sanctuary implemented a 518-km2 Tortugas Ecological Reserve. This fully protected marine reserve is expected to preserve biodiversity, maintain ecosystem integrity, and act as a reference site to discriminate between natural and anthropogenic changes to the ecosystem. The Tortugas Ecological Reserve complements the Sanctuary’s existing network of 23 fully protected zones, instituted in 1997 to protect marine resources from overuse, conserve biodiversity, and separate uses. The Tortugas Ecological Reserve is the largest fully protected marine reserve in the United States.

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