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Fort Zach summer

Did Fodor’s really tell folks not to come to the Keys?

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

11/23/2019

No. Fodor’s, the online travel guide, did not say “don’t go to the Florida Keys.” But, there’s a darn headline writer in search of click bait who went right there — and we followed down the rabbit hole, many of us without reading the original Fodor’s post.

I was primed to join the outrage balloon when I read the social media post making the rounds — the one with the story from the Miami Herald and the headline on the Tampa Bay Times that reads “Don’t travel to the Florida Keys, tourism website says.”

A keystroke from sharing it in high dudgeon, I realized the Herald and the Times were riffing on the original Fodor’s article. I figured I ought read it first. How responsibly adult-y of me, huh?

On Nov. 13, Fodor’s posted its annual “no” list of high-value tourist destinations that are under significant ethical, environmental or political stress with explanations on why and how those issues might affect a visitor’s experience. Included in the section called “The Sickly Corals in Need of Healing,” Fodor’s wrote:

If you insist on recreating in the vicinity of the Florida Reef Tract or Cozumel’s Reefs National Marine Park, take measures to protect the coral: reduce pollution generated from gasoline-fueled boats, use mooring buoys to avoid anchoring on coral, and always wear coral reef-safe sunscreen. Practice proper reef etiquette while diving and properly clean and maintain your gear to prevent spreading the disease. And consider enjoying the beach and ocean from the shoreline this year. 

Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey, my friends, isn’t that what we’ve been saying? That we’ve got take care of the dang reef, because if we don’t, the fish, coral and assorted marine flora and fauna that support our only viable economy are going to die. Done. Gone.

Look, that reef inside the 2,896 square nautical miles of the Florida National Keys Marine Sanctuary, is a shadow of itself from a couple decades ago. More than 80 percent of the reef’s coral is dead or dying, the victim of a complex stew of disease, pollution, warm water bleaching, human carelessness and Mother Nature’s periodic nastiness.

We wonder, when we’re snorkeling, how come it doesn’t look like the pictures and marketing videos. Why are there are so few colors, so few fish and things that crawl on the sandy bottom? There are people snorkeling today, oohing and ahhing over bleached, dead coral because they know no better. We’ve over-fished, over-lobstered, over-boated, over-anchored, over-dumped and over-plasticked that fragile reef and the surrounding waters.

We are well on our way to loving our reef to death.

It’s taken a century, give or take a decade, of degradation — human and nature — to bring the reef to its sad state. It will take decades more to repair, replenish and restore, but even the most skeptical marine scientists think it’s worth trying and can be done.

I’d start with four things:

  • Stop with the “I’ve been doing it this way all my life and I’ma gonna keep on” attitudes. The way we used to do things when there were 18,000 of us, isn’t what we can do when we add 2.5 million of us visiting every year.
  • Make it more expensive for tourists to use the resources and teach them some environmental science. Want to fish, snorkel, dive? Pay-and-protect.
  • Fund marine law enforcement and make abusers pay.
  • Fund the research so we can get to solutions faster.

Leave this beautiful reef and sanctuary in better shape than we found it. That’s what Fodor’s really said.

 

 

 

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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