|Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of the largest marine protected areas in the United States, encompassing 2,896 square nautical miles (9,933 square kilometers). It was designated by Congress and exists under federal law, and became effective in state waters with the consent of the state of Florida. Marine zones for multiple uses, including 24 highly protected “no-take” areas (6% of the sanctuary), have been in place since 1997. The sanctuary helps protect more than 6,000 species of marine life, including the nation’s only bank-barrier coral reef that lies adjacent to the continent, and one of the largest seagrass communities in this hemisphere. An estimated 400 underwater historical sites also lie within sanctuary waters, 14 of which are listed on the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
The Florida Keys and their environs have a long history (>100 years) of exploitation, thus many pressures on sanctuary resources are chronic, and to some degree cumulative. A historical perspective of sanctuary biodiversity suggests that the populations of many higher-trophic-level species, such as marine mammals and predatory fishes, were dramatically reduced by hunting and fishing prior to the sanctuary’s designation. Today, pressures on the resources include commercial and recreational fishing, disturbances to wildlife, coastal development, harmful algal blooms, marine debris, vessel groundings, the introduction of non-indigenous species, and vessel traffic. Human-driven factors such as climate change, sea level rise and ocean acidification are large-scale issues that may also affect sanctuary resources.
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