Recent Boating News
|Published Thursday, January
25, 2001, in the Miami Herald
Boaters face bans from areas to protect manatees
Off-limits spots and new speed regulations are part of a settlement between Florida and conservationists.
BY NICOLE WHITE
Florida boaters would be barred from several popular boating spots -- and face strict speed limits in others -- as part of a statewide settlement Wednesday meant to protect the state's endangered manatees.
Those are just two of the conditions reached in a settlement between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a group of 18 conservationists who sued the agency last year over its alleged failure to protect manatees from boaters.
"The problem has been that boaters and other watercraft users have been speeding way too fast in areas where manatees live, and they've been hitting and killing them in record numbers,'' said Patrick Rose, director of government relations for Save the Manatee Club.
"This settlement will both protect the manatee and not take away from the boating experience,'' Rose said.
The settlement calls for the establishment of several "safe havens'' -- spots where boats and water bikes would be banned, with the exception of those belonging to property owners.
The off-limits areas could include all or only parts of these locations: Blue Lagoon and Sky Lakes in Miami-Dade; DeLeon Springs, Volusia County; Pansy Bayou and Warm Mineral Springs in Sarasota County; Vero Beach Power Plant Discharge area, Indian River County; Turtle Bay, Charlotte County; Homosassa Springs, Blue Waters in Citrus County.
The state would establish more low-speed, or no-wake zones in several counties including Charlotte, Hillsborough, Manatee, Volusia, Indian River, Martin and Palm Beach.
The plan also includes an increase in patrols of the waterways to crack down on offenders and signs to alert boaters to new speed regulations. A formal agreement is expected in March after public hearings have been held in Brevard County -- the area with the most instances of manatees killed by speeding boats.
Manatees, Florida's beloved symbols of the marine environment, are being killed by boats in record numbers. Some 988 have been killed by boats since 1974. Last year 273 of the gentle mammals died, 78 of them killed by boats.
This is the second suit recently settled on behalf of manatees. Earlier this month, the federal government agreed to establish new refuges and sanctuaries as part of a settlement with several animal rights agencies that claimed that the government had not lived up to requirements of the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal acts and other laws that protect Florida's estimated 2,400 manatees. Gov. Jeb Bush last week also allotted $9 million for manatee protection in his proposed budget.
Despite the cries of victory from conservationists on Wednesday, James Antista, attorney for the Wildlife Commission, cautioned that the settlement was not a done deal.
"My commission wants to move with the settlement, but we have to be fair and get public input,'' Antista said. "Until that happens, we don't have a settlement.''
He added that no one -- including boaters -- wants to see manatees hurt or killed. But he argued that it was the commission's role to protect the interests of the endangered species as well as that of property owners.
John Sprague, president of Marine Industries Association of Florida, a group that tried to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of boaters, said he was pleased the public would have a chance to speak.
"I'm glad they're being cautious because they do need to balance the public's
need with the needs of the wildlife,'' said Sprague. "All we want is to see a fair balance given to everyone involved with this matter.
"Boaters and those in the water industry want equal access, and we want to do so in an environment where we can fish, swim and dive with animals around.''
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