Make way for manatees! That was the message coming from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) yesterday, with the establishment of new manatee protection zones in the state’s Flagler County. The move is an effort to protect the marine mammals in the summer months, when they are most likely to be found in the Intracoastal Waterway in Flagler County, and when increased boat traffic presents a greater risk of injury. And so from May 1 through Sept 7 (once the signs are posted), 2.7 miles of the 18.6 miles of Intracoastal Waterway channel will become slow zones.
The conservation measure aims to improve manatee protection while limiting the impact on local businesses and boaters. Kipp Frohlich, leader of the FWC’s Imperiled Species section, said of the new measure, “In summer, when the new manatee protection zones are in effect, the time needed for a boater to travel the entire length of the Intracoastal Waterway in Flagler County will increase by about 15 minutes.”
Collisions with watercraft continues to be the leading human-caused threat to Florida manatees, as the slow-moving manatees often cannot avoid the speed boats and other watercraft that frequent the waterways they call home. As a result, propellers and boat hulls inflict serious or mortal wounds, and most manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails after surviving collisions with boats.
Defenders works to protect manatees from fast-moving boats, and has been advocating additional slow speed zones in dangerous areas such as Flagler County since 1997. Florida representative Elizabeth Fleming testified in support of establishing the zones, reminding commissioners yesterday that the state manatee management plan they adopted in 2007 identified addressing manatee-boat strikes in Flagler County as a priority action.
“With more and more boaters using the Intracoastal Waterway in Flagler County, these areas have become increasingly dangerous for manatees,” she said. “We’re pleased that FWC Commissioners voted to establish the protection zones and make these critical areas safer for the marine mammals.”
That wasn’t the only good news for sea cows this month: on April 26, the FWC denied a petition to undo protections for manatees that went into effect just this year, upholding the establishment of a manatee refuge in the waters of Florida’s Kings Bay that will expand protections for the animals at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.