Manatee deaths from boats expected to be down

MAITLAND, Fla. – Indications are that manatee boat deaths in Florida may be down significantly in 2003, compared to the all-time high of 95 boat deaths last year, reported the St. Petersburg Times in an article today.

So far this year, only 69 manatees have been killed by boats, accounting for one fifth of all manatee deaths, compared to one third of manatee deaths last year, the newspaper reported.

One possible reason for the decline is an overall reduction in recreational boating due to the economic decline, biologists told the newspaper.

However, Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Judith Vallee told the newspaper she believes the controversy surrounding her organization’s efforts to protect the manatees may have made boaters “more careful about sharing the waterways with manatees.”

Environmental group to negotiate

The decline in boat deaths is one reason the Save the Manatee Club is changing its attitude, the newspaper reported. Another reason is that the backlash from the club’s lawsuits has many boaters viewing manatees in a negative light.

The organization’s leaders told the newspaper that they are pulling back and preparing to negotiate rather than litigate.

“We’re trying to put the past behind us,” Vallee said, according to the newspaper. “We’re going to have to build new bridges, and so is the government.”

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission recently postponed its decision a year on whether to take manatees off the state’s endangered list, in part due to the Save the Manatee Club’s new attitude, the newspaper reported.

Ken Haddad, executive director of the wildlife commission, said he hopes club leaders and boating advocates will be able to work out their differences next year, according to the newspaper.

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