Reef Rescue supporters urge town not to fight extension of coral protection area

Daily News Staff Writer

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Supporters of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue's campaign to have a federal protection zone for elkhorn and staghorn coral extended through Palm Beach's shoreline have sent a flurry of e-mails to Town Manager Peter Elwell's office.

As of Friday evening, the town had received at least 66. Many are form letters, but some were individually written.

Last fall, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated an area of ocean floor from the Florida Keys to the Boynton Beach Inlet a critical habitat for those types of coral. Reef Rescue maintains staghorn coral are found north of the Boynton Inlet and wants the zone expanded north 15 miles to the Palm Beach Inlet.

The town opposes the designation because it would increase the length of environmental reviews for beach renourishment projects while not adding significant protection for the coral, according to Penny Cutt of Coastal Systems International, a consultant to the town.

The Fisheries Service is reviewing Reef Rescue's petition and will make public its intentions on Jan. 6.

Palm Beacher Elizabeth Dowdle, Raphael Clemente, an urban planner with West Palm Beach; and residents of Coconut Groves, Lantana, Lake Worth and other spots in the state are among the dozens urging Palm Beach not to fight an expansion of the protected area.

"I understand there is a significant problem with beach erosion in this town, but I think there are more ecologically sound, albeit more expensive, ways to handle the situation. Please do what you can to protect what little underwater environment is left," wrote David Terry of Sebastian.

"Any town that will not take responsibility to protect their reefs is a town I do not want to visit and spend my free time and funds!" wrote George Kenney of St. Cloud. "Please protect the staghorn. It is one of the most majestic of corals that we can see in the state of Florida."

Llywd Ecclestone, head of the town Shore Protection Board, said both goals protecting coral and rebuilding the town's beaches can be accomplished. "The town and the Shore Board's position is based on the best scientific information available," Ecclestone said Friday. "We want to protect the environment even as we protect the town's shoreline."

In an Aug. 26 letter to the Fisheries Service's regional office in St. Petersburg, Palm Beach Public Works Director Paul Brazil argued that extending the zone to the Palm Beach Inlet is not justified because staghorn corals are found infrequently north of the Boynton Beach Inlet, and as such, the region in question does not meet the guidelines for critical habitat as defined by the Endangered Species Act.

Jennifer Moore, a natural resource specialist with the St. Petersburg office, told the Daily News earlier this month that the criteria for designating an area a critical habitat requires more than sporadic examples of a given species.

Staff writer William Kelly contributed to this report.


Please keep those emails going to the town!

Click here to send email to Palm Beach town manager.