FIU becomes major research partner of Florida Keys sanctuary

Florida International University has been named a major research, monitoring and education partner of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under an agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Our scientists have been conducting research and monitoring activities in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since its inception in 1990,” said James Fourqurean, director of the FIU Marine Education and Research Initiative in the Florida Keys. “This partnership simply helps to realize FIU’s goal to be engaged with the local community, to help lead the development of a vibrant economy, to create strong educational opportunities, and to preserve and protect our environment.”

Aquarius Mission Specialist Mark Hulsbeck and FIU student Adam Zenone

Aquarius Mission Specialist Mark Hulsbeck and FIU student assess the health of coral colonies being subjected to increased nutrients off the coast of the Florida Keys during a recent Aquarius mission.

With resource protection and public outreach as major focal points for the sanctuary, NOAA is committing $1.3 million in funding and FIU will provide support of sanctuary operations with personnel and partnership opportunities. Among the personnel are scientists who monitor conditions and assess resource damages, mechanics who maintain facilities, educational/outreach specialists, and administrative staff.

FIU’s past projects in the Florida Keys include the monitoring of seagrass, water quality and coral reefs as part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Water Quality Protection Program, as well as numerous experiments that have helped the world understand the factors necessary for a healthy environment. Today, FIU also features the Medina Aquarius Program, which is dedicated to the study and preservation of marine ecosystems worldwide.  Off the coast of Key Largo, this program houses the FIU Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research laboratory.

“We are thrilled to be welcoming Florida International University as a formal partner in the management of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton.  “They have been partners for a long time with NOAA and DEP and this agreement along with their taking over Aquarius Reef Base will foster many new opportunities for research, education, and resource protection.”

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Florida Coastal Office maintains its role as the State of Florida co-trustee of the Sanctuary, continuing a long-standing agreement. Since the 1975 establishment of Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, the agreement has enabled state-federal collaboration in the management of natural and cultural resources in the waters of the Keys.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary.

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