Florida boaters given reason to celebrate

CRYSTAL RIVER and FORT MYERS, Fla. – Boaters in Florida have reason to celebrate this holiday season with what some would consider two wins in the debate over manatees and boating.

For one, five state manatee speed zones in Lee County, Fla., will no longer be enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the News-Press reported in an article today.

The announcement was made following the dismissal of a commission appeal of a 2002 ruling in which 10 Lee County boaters argued that the manatee speed zones were unconstitutional, according to the newspaper.

The Save the Manatee Club told the newspaper it was disappointed with the decision.

“Federal researchers have already found that the manatee population in Southwest Florida is declining and manatees will struggle even harder for survival because of this loss,” said Laura Combs, southwest regional coordinator for the club.

In Citrus Country, however, the manatee population appears to be growing. During the first of four aerial manatee surveys ordered by Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jim Kraus, a record number of manatees were spotted, reported the St. Petersburg Times in a recent article.

Biologist Joyce Kleen spotted 393 manatees in area waters despite less than ideal conditions, breaking the record of 389 in January 2002, the newspaper reported.

“I’m sure the total is well over 400,” she told the newspaper, citing cloudy water in areas known to be popular with manatees.

The newspaper stated that aerial counts of Crystal River manatees began in the 1960s, and regular counts have been ongoing since the mid 1980s.

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