Comments on the Gray's Reef Management Plan

Presented by David C. Kyler, Executive Director, Center for a Sustainable Coast
December 2, 2003

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is an extremely valuable asset in the complex ocean ecosystem that is so vital to the diversity and productivity of the nation's marine environment off Georgia's coast. Important as Gray's Reef is, and as essential as the management plan may be in support of the reef's functions, I'd like to suggest a few ideas that should be included, or more strongly emphasized, in the plan.

1. To truly serve as a sanctuary for marine life, ultimately Gray's Reef must be managed as a reserve to protect all species within its bounds against fishing and any other activities that disturb natural resources. While I realize this is a politically controversial position, the effectiveness of protected areas has been amply demonstrated in numerous locations, where prohibitions imposed with reserve status compensate many times over for resources protected by producing far greater productivity (and recovery in some cases) of diverse species, including those relevant to commercial and recreational fishing. As the Pew Ocean Commission's report on the nationšs oceans compellingly substantiates, many of our resources are now under severe threat. If we hope to protect them against further decline, a global system of marine reserves is utterly imperative. Anyone who has an understanding of the systemic nature of the marine environment and a commitment to sustainable conservation of resources for future generations will conclude that both commercial and public interests are best served by establishment of marine reserves at select strategic locations. Gray's Reef certainly deserves being protected in this manner, and the interests of future generations depend on it.

2. Although many activities affecting Gray's Reef and a multitude of other interrelated natural resources are beyond the scope and authority of the proposed management plan, it is critical that they are addressed in this plan. For example, numerous studies and special reports emphasize the adverse effect of non-point source pollution on water quality, and some sources analyze the relationship of watersheds, water use, and water quality with the inter-tidal and marine areas that receive the outflow of our river systems. In Georgia, seven watersheds (including two tributaries to the Altamaha) encompassing over 60% of Georgia's land area, drain into river systems that flow into the Atlantic. Urban and rural land uses in this vast area have profound impact on water quality and flow in these rivers, which fundamentally influence ecosystems that are vital to the Georgia's prolific tidal marshes (one third of those remaining on the U.S. east coast) and, in turn, our nation's marine resources. To strengthen the capacity of efforts to improve water resource management, presently an issue of unprecedented interest in Georgia, the Gray's Reef Management Plan should include analysis of these relationships and efforts to encourage appropriate state policies for protecting them.

National Marine Fisheries Service designation of Georgia's inter-tidal areas as "essential fish habitat" for a number of key species is but one of many indicators underscoring the significant need for such measures. Successful resource "management," deserving of that comprehensive term, by sheer necessity demands an integrated, cooperative, and well-coordinated spectrum of activities under the authority of federal, state, and local governments. No one level of public authority is sufficient to ensure responsible and reliable protection of the marine environment. I urge Gray's Reef staff and all other appropriate NOAA officials to take every possible step to provide the leadership, technical support, and political initiative needed to build a lasting intergovernmental management structure capable of resolving these complex issues over the long term.

3. One of the foremost benefits of Gray's Reef is advancing education about the marine environment. Without major strides in public understanding about the importance of these resources and their relationship with various human activities, it is doubtful that adequate political resolve can be attained soon enough, and sustained long enough, to establish the management structure needed. Yet, education about marine resources alone is necessary but not sufficient. Gray's Reef must work to enhance and support greater awareness about related land-based activities, water quality and flow, environmental monitoring and applied research, and broad resource conservation policies and practices if we are to achieve our common objective to restore and protect the marine environment for a truly sustainable future.
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