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North Florida Field Office

Final Designation of Two Federal Manatee Protection Areas in Brevard County - Frequently Asked Questions


Q1: What is a manatee refuge?

A1: Manatee refuges are areas where certain waterborne activities may be restricted or prohibited to prevent injuring or killing one or more manatees. Waterborne activities that may be restricted include, but are not limited to, swimming, diving (including skin and SCUBA diving), snorkeling, water skiing, surfing, fishing, the use of water vehicles, and dredging and filling operations. For an area designated as a manatee refuge, the regulation will state which, if any, waterborne activities are prohibited, and state the applicable restrictions. Designation of manatee refuges will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights. Residents and their guests would be permitted watercraft access through a manatee sanctuary or refuge to private residences, boat houses, and docks. Any authorized boating activity would be conducted by operating watercraft at slow speed.

Q2: What is a manatee sanctuary?

A2: Manatee sanctuaries are areas in which all waterborne activities are prohibited to prevent injuring or killing one or more manatees. Designation of manatee sanctuaries will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights. Residents and their guests would be permitted watercraft access through a manatee sanctuary or refuge to private residences, boat houses, and docks. Any authorized boating activity would be conducted by operating watercraft at slow speed.

Q3: Why are you designating two sites as manatee refuges at this time?

A3: We are establishing two refuges at Barge Canal and Sykes Creek in Brevard County at this time to reduce injury and mortality rates and help protect the manatee at these important areas, where manatee mortality historically has been the highest. We have assessed the needs of the manatee at an ecosystem level using the best available scientific information to ensure adequate protected areas are available to satisfy its biological needs. We believe that these two sites are in need of immediate protection. We plan to move forward with the other fourteen sites, that we proposed in August 2001, by December 1, 2002, if the State of Florida has not acted at that time. In addition, we will continue to assess the need to maintain and establish protected sites as our understanding of the manatee's biological requirements is refined.

Q4: What is your legal authority to establish/designate manatee refuges or sanctuaries?

A4: The authority to establish protection areas for the Florida manatee is provided by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, and is codified in Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 17, subpart J. We may, by regulation, establish manatee protection areas (sanctuaries or refuges) whenever there is substantial evidence showing such establishment is necessary to prevent the taking of one or more manatees.

Q5: What is "take"?

A5: "Take", as defined by the Endangered Species Act, means "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct." "Harm" is further defined by us to include significant habitat modification or degradation that actually results in death or injury to listed species by significantly impairing behavioral patterns such as breeding, feeding or sheltering. We define "harass" as actions that create the likelihood of injury to listed species to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavior patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering.

Q6: Where will the two final manatee refuges be located?

A6: The two manatee refuges we are finalizing at this time include:

Q7: Where would the remaining fourteen proposed refuges and sanctuaries be located that you plan to take action on by December 1, 2002?

A7: The other manatee refuges and sanctuaries that we proposed in August 2001 and plan to take final action on by December 1, 2002, if the State of Florida has not taken any action in these areas.

Proposed seasonal (October 1 through March 31) manatee sanctuaries:

Proposed manatee refuges:

Q8: How is "slow" and "idle" speed defined in these regulated areas?

A8: "Idle" speed is defined as the minimum speed necessary to maintain watercraft steerage. "Slow" speed is defined as the speed at which the watercraft proceeds fully off plane and is completely settled in the water. Since watercraft of different sizes and configurations may travel at different speeds, a specific speed is not assigned. However, a watercraft is NOT proceeding at slow speed if it is - 1) on plane, (2) in the process of coming up on or coming off of plane, or (3) is creating an excessive wake. A watercraft IS proceeding at slow speed if it is fully off plane and completely settled in the water, not plowing or creating an excessive wake. Protections areas may also carry a channel qualifier, exempt or included. In such instances this refers to the existing marked navigational channel.

Q9: Was the public given an opportunity to participate in this process?

A9: Yes. A proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on August 3, 2001. We then held a series of four (4) public hearings in September 2001 to solicit comments, suggestions and additional recommendations. During the 60 day public comment period, we received 3,500 public comments on the proposed rule.

Q10: Will these manatee protection areas affect property rights?

A10: No. For each proposed protection area, designation of manatee refuges or sanctuaries will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights. Residents and their guests will be permitted watercraft access through a manatee sanctuary or refuge to private residences, boat houses, and docks. Any authorized boating activity would be conducted by operating watercraft at slow speed.

Q11: Will designation of a site as a manatee refuge or sanctuary restrict my access to Florida's waterways?

A11: The designation of manatee protection areas is not intended to create blanket access restrictions to Florida's waterways. However, some level of impact would be experienced in areas designated as manatee protection areas. The types of prohibited or restricted waterborne activities and schedule for such will vary from site to site and may be seasonal in nature. In all cases, designation of manatee sanctuaries and refuges will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights.

Q12: Do you consider economic and quality of life impacts on citizens when making final site
selection?

A12: Yes. We consider waterway access, impact on commercial and recreational waterway uses, as well as community economic impacts in reaching final decisions. For Final Economic Analysis - PDF version

Q13: Are you singling out watercraft as the only cause of manatee mortality?

A13: No. We acknowledge that watercraft-related mortality is not the only cause of manatee deaths. It is, however, the number one cause of human-related deaths. Designation of manatee protection areas offers us an opportunity to implement sound, effective risk-reduction management actions. Adult survival rates are one of the key criteria we consider in evaluating the success of our recovery efforts, and implementation of these proposed protection areas is expected to have a significant impact on overall adult manatee survival rates.

Q14: I thought the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was designating speed zones, refuges and sanctuaries; are you coordinating your efforts with the state agencies?

A14: We are coordinating our efforts closely with the Commission. We are open to considering state and local government agency actions in lieu of federally-designated protection areas. That is why the Service has decided to finalize these two sites in Brevard County now and defer the other fourteen sites we proposed in August 2001 until December 1, 2002. This will allow us an opportunity to consider any actions taken by state or local agencies between now and December 1, 2002 that may impact our final site selection and/or designation. If the State adopts identical or comparable manatee protection areas to the ones in our proposal, the Service will withdraw these fourteen proposed Federal designations.

Q15: How is the settlement between the Save the Manatee Club et al. and the Fish and Wildlife Service affecting this process?

A15: In the settlement, we agreed to a specific schedule for proposing manatee refuges and sanctuaries. Our review process was already underway before the lawsuit was filed. Our proposal and final rule fully complies with this schedule.

Q16: What is the final settlement between the Save the Manatee Club and the State of Florida?

A16: Please contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for information related to the state lawsuit.

Q17: Does the Fish and Wildlife Service have enough people to post regulation signs and boundary signs?

A17: Yes. We are committed to posting and enforcing any manatee protection area we designate. In addition, the state has committed substantial resources to increase law enforcement relating to manatees.

Q18: How are manatee protection areas enforced?

A18: Manatee protection area restrictions are enforced by our law enforcement officers through routine patrol and task force operations. Using unmarked watercraft, our officers monitor and document boat operators violating posted manatee protection zone restrictions. Information and evidence gathered by the officers is turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which subsequently issues a federal violation notice to the offender. First offender notices offer the option of paying a fine or appearing before a U. S. Magistrate Judge. Repeat offenders may not receive this option and may be required to appear in federal court. Our officers coordinate with State conservation officers, local sheriff marine patrols, and the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct task force actions and provide manatee protection areas enforcement training.

Q19: Since the State of Florida's 2001 manatee count was higher than expected, why are you proceeding with the proposal to designate manatee refuges and sanctuaries?

A19: We are very pleased with this year's count and see these numbers as indicative of the success of many long-term conservation efforts. However, collisions with watercraft and harassment actions that impede the use of warm water areas critical to manatee survival continue to impact manatees. Whether or not the manatee population grows or declines is primarily dependent on the survival rate of adult manatees. The proposed manatee protection areas would help ensure sufficient adult survival. We reviewed the existing network of federal, state and local manatee protection areas and we identified gaps in the existing network and are proposing appropriate measures to fill those gaps. The designation of additional manatee protection areas is expected to further improve the adult survival rate and support the full recovery of the species.

Q20: How many federal manatee sanctuaries are currently in place and what impacts have they had on manatee protection and recovery?

A20: There are seven federal sanctuaries in Florida, all of which are located in the Crystal River area. The two Brevard County sites are the first Federal manatee "refuges" in Florida created for the purpose of protecting Florida manatees.

Q21: Will any changes be made at the existing manatee sanctuaries in Crystal River?

A21: We are not proposing any changes to the seven Crystal River manatee sanctuaries at this time. However, we will continue to monitor and review activities at these sites and may take appropriate measures to adjust existing boundaries and designations to ensure the protection of manatees in the area.

Q22: What are the next steps in the process?

A22: The Service will be posting these two sites in Brevard County with slow speed signs and announcing those postings in the local newspapers. Federal protection will take effect once these signs are posted. In addition, the Service will continue to evaluate public comments received on the additional fourteen (14) proposed sites and make a final decision by December 1, 2002.


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Last modified March 13, 2003