Florida Celebrates Oceans Day
TALLAHASSEE, Florida, March 12, 2008 (ENS) - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection today joined public and private partners to celebrate Florida Oceans Day at the Capitol. The annual event recognizes people and organizations who work to make the state's oceans and coasts cleaner, healthier and more productive.

The theme of this year's celebration is "Ocean Technology: Protecting Florida's Oceans/Sustaining Florida's Economy."

"Clean water and responsible management are the heart of Florida's quality of life and ocean-based economy," said DEP Secretary Michael Sole. "Florida is taking strides to lead the nation in environmental stewardship, protecting the ocean and coastal resources that provide us national treasures, food and recreational and economic opportunities."

Nearly 50 conservation organizations, universities, environmental managers and marine science leaders from across the state gathered in the Capitol rotunda and courtyard to showcase the importance of healthy oceans and marine life to Florida's economy and its people.

The Mote Marine Lab brought its mobile aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission displayed touch tanks containing several species of crabs, conch and whelks.

A manatee ambulance from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution was on hand to educate the public about marine mammal rescue operations.

These displays give the public and legislators opportunities to interact with representatives and the species they protect in Florida's coastal and marine ecosystems, said Sole.

This year, Sole was honored by the Florida Ocean Alliance as a Steward of the Sea, recognizing his commitment to protecting and enhancing Florida's coastal and ocean resources. Sole is the first person to ever be named a Steward of the Sea by the Florida Ocean Alliance.

As part of this year's Florida Oceans Day, the DEP hosted exhibits from DEP's Coastal Management Program, Greenways and Trails, the Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas, and the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council.

The Florida Oceans and Coastal Council was created by the Florida Legislature in 2005 to develop priorities for ocean and coastal research and establish a statewide ocean research plan each year.

Made up of 15 voting members and three non-voting members, the Council coordinates public and private ocean research from across the state for more effective coastal management.

Included in this year's research plan is the beginning stages of an advanced state-of-the-art coastal observation system that will automatically monitor and report the condition of coastal and ocean waters.

With the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, Florida hosts 41 aquatic preserves, three of the nation's National Estuarine Research Reserves, the Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, one of the largest underwater protected areas in the world.

Managed by DEP's Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas, these protected areas include more than four million acres of the most valuable submerged lands and select coastal uplands in Florida.

All is not well in the sanctuary. Invasive lionfish with venomous spines have been found there, warns the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which supervises the sanctuary.

Native to the tropical Indo-Pacific region, lionfish are often kept in both public and private aquariums. Since 2000, lionfish have been observed by divers in coral, rocky and artificial reefs along the southeast coast from Florida to North Carolina and also throughout the Bahamas, Bermuda and Cuba. More recently, lionfish have been caught by bottom fishing anglers.

Scientists expect lionfish to continue to disperse throughout the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys. There is increasing concern among fishery scientists that lionfish, having no natural enemies, may adversely impact natural fish populations. Also, the lionfish's venomous spines may endanger divers and anglers.

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