Draft management plan proposed for new exemptions at Gray's Reef

Published: Dec. 29, 2013 at 4:32 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2014 at 4:37 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is a popular destination for fisherman and divers; the reef is close to 20 miles off the Georgia Coast and a good 60 feet under the surface.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a comprehensive draft management plan, proposed rulemaking and environmental assessment for public review and comment.

The draft plan is a result of scientific study and a public participatory process, and proposes regulatory changes that would allow the use of weighted marker buoys in the sanctuary, which are important for driver safety and fishing.

The current sanctuary regulations prohibit anchoring in the sanctuary and the placement of any material on the seafloor, including weights that mark locations during recreational diving or fishing. NOAA proposes an exemption for weighted marker buoys that are "continuously tended" by fishers and divers and are not attached to a vessel and not capable of holding a boat at anchor.

The weighted marker buoys would be used for diving safety and to help recreational anglers mark and relocate a fishing spot as their boat drifts. Public comments and sanctuary advisory council discussions indicated strong support for the weighted marker buoy exemption.

The draft plan also provides a framework for the sanctuary to refine its education and outreach programs and strengthen its resource protection activities through research and monitoring. Strategies to address emerging issues, such as the effects of invasive lionfish on sanctuary resources, also are included in the plan.

Managed by NOAA as part of the National Marine Sanctuary System, Gray's Reef is one of the largest near-shore live-bottom reefs off the southeastern United States., encompassing approximately 22 square miles. The live bottom and ledge habitat support an abundant reef fish and invertebrate community and the reef is in the only known calving ground for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.

All comments must be received by Feb. 10, 2014. Written comments should be sent by mail to: George Sedberry, Acting Sanctuary Superintendent, Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, 10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, GA 31411.

Comments may also be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal In the search window, type NOS-2013-0160, click the "Comment Now!" icon and complete the required fields.

The sanctuary will also hold three public meetings at the following locations where comments can also be submitted:

  • 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m., Jan. 7, Pooler Public Library, 216 S. Rogers St., Pooler, Ga.
  • 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m., Jan. 8, Statesboro Regional Library, 124 S. Main St., Statesboro, Ga.
  • 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m., Jan. 9, Marshes of Glynn Library, 208 Gloucester St., Brunswick, Ga.

The draft management plan and environmental assessment may be downloaded, click here.

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