Manatees and boating

In the often-heated debate surrounding Florida manatee protection, about the only topic everyone can agree on is that nobody wants to see these docile creatures get hurt. Of course, no amount of prevention can change the fact that they sometimes do.
So the boating industry finds itself in a tricky situation when it comes to the manatee — not wanting to appear callous when laws are proposed to protect the animals, while at the same time doing its best to oppose those rules it finds unreasonably restrictive to boaters. However, it would be unfair to say that boaters do not care about the manatee.
“Boaters have never failed to support regulations to protect manatees when the need is clearly there,” Marine Industries Association of South Florida Executive Director Frank Herhold says. “MIASF is a strong advocate of more boater education, greater boater awareness and more law enforcement on the waterways.”
Measures to protect the manatee have been approved, rejected, enacted and rescinded in recent years. Here is Boating Industry’s chronicle of some of the legal wrangling that lead up to it.
>> Aug. 29, 2000 – Florida Governor Jeb Bush unveils several manatee protection policies, including expenditures of $1.3 million for enforcement of manatee speed zones and $2 million in state funding to care for injured manatees.
>> Jan. 4, 2001 – A settlement in a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is reached, placing some restrictions on marina development and calling for a requirement for federal agencies to apply new, stringent standards before approving projects that increase boat traffic in a manatee habitat.
>> April 23, 2001 – A settlement proposal between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and environmental groups would create 14 “safe havens” for manatees where humans would be prohibited from boating and fishing, or limited from entering the area.
>> May 24, 2001 – A Florida panel creates new manatee go-slow zones in Brevard County.
>> July 13, 2001 – The U.S. FWS releases a draft of a manatee recovery plan, suggesting if certain criteria are met, the manatee could be downlisted from the federal list of endangered species.
>> Aug. 14, 2001 – NMMA says it opposes a proposal to designate 16 areas as manatee sanctuaries or refugees, four of which would prohibit water activities, including boating, fishing and swimming between Oct. 1 and March 31.
>> Dec. 5, 2001 – A 6.4-kilometer manatee protection zone in Florida is expanded by Hillsborough County commissioners.
>> March 22, 2002 – The Florida legislature approves a bill that includes a statement of boaters' rights, and a statement that any future speed zones will have to take into account the need for boaters’ water access.
>> April 18, 2002 – A Tallahassee judge dismisses a challenge to new slow-speed zones on waterways in Brevard County, disagreeing with a claim from Brevard County boaters and two cities that speed restrictions have no scientific basis.
>> Sept. 13, 2002 – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission approves new manatee-protection zones in 10 waterways.
>> Oct. 9, 2002 – The Florida Marine Research Institute recommends the manatee's status should be listed as threatened, not endangered.
>> Nov. 12, 2002 – A Florida judge declares most of Lee County’s manatee protection zones unconstitutional, and rules the state failed to consider boaters' rights when they were adopted.
>> Jan. 9, 2003 – Scientists say 305 manatees died in Florida in 2002, 95 from watercraft-related injuries–a record high.
>> June 18, 2003 – Bush signs a bill that uses marina gas to hire additional marine patrol officers, erect warning signs to boaters, and pay for boater education programs. The bill also creates Florida’s Office of Boating and Waterways.
>> Dec. 23, 2003 – Five manatee speed zones in Lee County will no longer be enforced by the state, following the dismissal of a commission appeal of the 2002 ruling.
>> Jan. 5, 2004 – Scientists report that of the 380 manatees that died in Florida waters in 2003, only 73 deaths were due to watercraft-related injuries–the lowest number since 1998.
>> April 1, 2004 – Federal wildlife officials say they will begin enforcing manatee speed zones in Lee County.
>> June 23, 2004 – Bush signs bill (SB 540) that deals with the process by which officials decide what manatee protections will be put in place in certain areas. 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.
>> July 7, 2004 – The U.S. FWS withdraws its federal designation at two manatee refuges in Florida: the Pansy Bayou Manatee Refuge in Sarasota County and the Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuge in Brevard County, saying the state had begun providing comparable protections itself.

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