Although it’s not in Central America, today’s National Park Profile features an amazing reserve on the southern tip of Florida in the USA. We spoke to Gary Bremen of Biscayne National Park about this beautiful area and the conservation issues it is involved in.
Photo courtesy of Biscayne National Park
Frontier: What is your role at the Biscayne National Park?
Gary: I am a national park ranger.
Frontier: What are the main conservation issues being addressed at the moment at Biscayne National Park?
Gary: Water quality, fisheries, anthropogenic impacts (to include marine debris, fishing debris, coral and seagrass groundings, climate change, exotic species management, etc.)
Frontier: Which issues will be addressed in the future?
Gary: All of these issues are likely to be long-term and continuing. We are currently halfway through the 60-day comment period for the park's General Manangement Plan, a document that will guide the park for the next 20-30 years. The most controversial aspect of this plan is a 10, 500 acre proposed no-take marine reserve that intends to create a large area of healthy reefs with a large diversity and quantity of wildlife to benefit wildlife watchers, and incidentally anglers through anticipated spill over effects outside the marine reserve. A fisheries Management Plan is also in development that will hopefully eliminate commercial fishing within the park and produce similar results to the above, but via the legal mandate to protect resources, rather than to benefit visitor experience.
Frontier: Which issues have been successfully addressed in the past?
Gary: Sponging was discontinued in 1991, a proposed commercial airport at the park's boundary was defeated in the late 90s, and inholdings have been acquired.
Frontier: Which animals can be found in the park?
Gary: Over 500 varieties of fish have been documented here. Larger vertebrates include crocodiles, 4 species of sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and occasional other whales.
Frontier: Are any animals in the park critically or otherwise endangered?
Gary: The Schaus swallowtail butterfly is endemic to the park and is endangered.
Other endangered species include the aforementioned turtles, croc and manatees, several bird species, and a variety of plants that are listed both federally and by the state. Elkhorn and staghorn corals are threatened species found in the park.
Photo courtesy of Biscayne National Park
Frontier: How is the park funded?
Gary: Primarily through federal tax dollars, supplemented by grants and fines collected for mitigation of vessel grounding damage.
Frontier: Why should people visit your national park?
Gary: It is the largest marine park in the National Park System, and sits on the doorstep of the 12th largest metropolitan area in the country. We offer an easy glimpse into a beautiful marine environment that includes mangrove forests, warm, clear, shallow bay waters, nearly 50 islands of the Florida Keys with no roads or bridges (or tiki bars, or t-shirt shops...), the northernmost extent of the world's third-longest coral reef, and evidence of 10,000 years of human history that includes native peoples, pirates, shipwrecks, rum runners, millionaires, presidents and pineapple farmers.
Frontier: What is your personal favourite part of the park and why?
Gary: I have many: Sandwich Cove, Hurricane Creek, Stiltsville, Boca Chita Key on a weekday, Jones Lagoon, the Mandalay wreck. Perhaps my favourite experience though is simply shutting down the boat engine in the middle of the bay on a clear, calm sunny day and drifting over water so clear it is barely noticeable...kind of like flying.
Frontier: Has the park got any claims to fame?
Gary: The aforementioned Schaus swallowtail butterfly, the Sargent's cherry palm and the Florida semaphore cactus are all found almost or completely exclusively in the park. We are the largest marine park in the NPS, with 95% of our 173,000 acres covered by water. We have the only underwater shipwreck trail in the NPS. Lots of TV programs and books have the park as a background, including Miami Vice, CSI Miami, Burn Notice, Dexter, novels by Carl Hiaassen and Elmore Leonard.
Frontier: Any other information that might be interesting?
Gary: The park was very much a grass-roots effort to stop a major petrochemical plant and a new city from coming to fruition. You can read more about it here. There is also a fascinating story of a pioneering African-American family living within the park’s boundaries.
By Alex Prior