Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) status for Snapper Ledge, Tavernier, Key Largo, Florida

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We the undersigned request the enactment of a law, regulation, and/or ordinance prohibiting the taking of any and all types of marine creatures, sponges, corals, aquatic plants and grasses from the waters around the dive site commonly known as Snapper Ledge, Tavernier, Key Largo, Florida Keys, Florida by any and all means. We the undersigned seek Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) status for Snapper Ledge.

We request this action because this reef is a unique and popular scuba diving site that is well known internationally for its diverse and dense concentration of marine creatures. Unfortunately, the area is being depleted and destroyed by fisherman who kill fish for food, sport and pleasure using both spears and hooks.

Snapper Ledge, a popular dive site off of Tavernier in the Florida Keys, is home to some of the most dense and diverse marine life populations in the area. Divers regularly report the presence of large schools of grunts, snappers, and many other species of fish, including parrotfish, rays, lobsters, and more. Divers also report that although the extreme density of marine life is present during the entire year, it is concentrated only in the immediate area around what is commonly known as Snapper Ledge.

Divespots.com describes Snapper Ledge as follows:

"Often, the schools of fish are so thick that you cannot see through them. You can usually count on seeing a few nurse sharks along with green and spotted Moray Eels. Other frequent sightings include Goat Fish, Hog Snappers, Trunk Fish, Sea Urchins, Crabs, Lobster, Nurse Sharks, Spider and Arrow Crabs, Rays, Octopus, Corkscrew Anenome, Eel, Cleaner Shrimp, Butter Hamlet, and Hawk Fish.

"One of the largest and healthiest Boulder Brain Corals (Colpophyllia natans) in the Upper Keys can be found on Snapper's Ledge. This site is an exceptional location for both snorkeling and diving -- a serious "Must Dive" site in the keys."

Unfortunately, Snapper Ledge has become a popular destination for spear-fishing. It is common for recreational SCUBA divers to see the carnage left by spear-fisherman, many of whom are underwater simply to shoot animals for sport. Some divers have even reported spear-fisherman killing animals within mere feet of them.

Nurse sharks are a common target, and many divers have testified to seeing nurse sharks speared for sport and left to die prolonged deaths over the course of many days.

Professional underwater photographer and Key Largo resident Stephen Frink photographed a nurse shark -- still alive -- that had been "stabbed through the back and eviscerated." See Stephen's blog entry (link below) for his letter about the situation at Snapper Ledge, and for a photo of the eviscerated nurse shark.

We the undersigned seek Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) status for Snapper Ledge.

By virtue of its unusually dense concentration of marine life and value as a marquee dive site for recreational SCUBA divers, Snapper Ledge should be protected as a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA), just as Molasses Reef and French Reef are protected. There are plenty of other places to spear fish off Tavernier and Islamorada, and to decimate the fish populations at Snapper Ledge is both shortsighted and barbaric.

--- ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON MARINE PROTECTED AREAS (MPAs) ---

A common misconception is that MPAs and SPAs reduce the availability of fish for fishing (including spear-fishing).

In fact, MPAs and SPAs can increase the productivity of local fishing grounds because "in the absence of fishing pressure inside reserves, fish are able to grow to maturity and to increase in overall abundance. This leads to increased reproductive potential inside reserves, and the subsequent increased production of eggs and larvae, which can be transported by currents of the reserves to replenish nearby fishing grounds."

Source: http://mpa.gov/helpful_resources/faqs.html#Fisherie_Enhancement

--- USEFUL LINKS ---

Snapper Ledge information, Divespots.com
http://www.divespots.com/scuba/spotID-147/view.divespot

Stephen Frink, on Snapper Ledge
http://stephenfrink.blogspot.com/2008/08/shark-dead-for-no-reason.html

National Marine Protected Areas: FAQs
http://mpa.gov/helpful_resources/faqs.html#Fisherie_Enhancement