Florida Gov. Bush signs controversial manatee bill

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill calling for a study of manatee habitat that was opposed by some environmentalists who fear it may weaken current protections for the marine mammal, was signed Wednesday by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, according to an Associated Press story in the Miami Herald yesterday.

The bill (SB 540) deals. in part, with the process by which officials decide what manatee protections – such as slow-speed zones – will be put in place in certain areas. It says that in areas where biological goals for a certain number of manatees have been met, officials should give “great weight” to current regulations, the AP reported.

However, some environmental groups urged Bush to veto the bill, saying it limits the state’s ability to adopt new, more restrictive speed zones to further protect the manatees, according to the story.

But the governor didn’t agree.

“This bill does not prevent the (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) from regulating vessels to protect manatees and does not alter the FWC’s current responsibilities under the Manatee Sanctuary Act,” Bush wrote in a letter explaining his decision.

The bill also calls for a study of manatee habitat, analysis of the effectiveness of manatee protection signs and boater compliance with signs, as well as further research on genetic tagging of manatees, “all of which will improve our understanding of the status and health of manatee populations,” Bush wrote.

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