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North Florida Field Office

Final Designation of Three Federal Manatee Protection Areas Frequently Asked Questions


Q1: What is a manatee refuge?

A1: Per 50 CFR 17.102, "Manatee refuge means an area in which the Director has determined that certain waterborne activity would result in the taking of one or more manatees, or that certain waterborne activity must be restricted to prevent the taking of one of more manatees, including but not limited to a taking by harassment;... Waterborne activity includes, but is 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 states the applicable restrictions. Designation of manatee refuges will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights. Public and private property owners and their designees will be permitted watercraft access and allowed to maintain property and waterways when their property is located in a manatee refuge. Any authorized boating activity in the refuges can be conducted by operating watercraft at reduced speed and maintenance activities will be allowed, subject to applicable Federal, State and local permitting requirements.

Q2: What is your legal authority to establish/designate manatee refuges or sanctuaries?

A2: The authority to establish protection areas for the Florida manatee is provided by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended and codified in 16 USC 1531 et. seq., and by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended and codified in 16 USC 1361 et. seq. and regulations promulgated pursuant to these Acts, which are found in Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 17, subpart J. We may, by regulation, establish manatee protection areas whenever there is substantial evidence showing such establishment is necessary to prevent the taking of one or more manatees.

Q3: Where will the three manatee refuges be located, and what restrictions are being imposed?

A3: The three manatee refuges are: (1) in Lee County, along the Caloosahatchee River and San Carlos Bay; (2) in Volusia County, along the Halifax River and associated waterbodies from the Volusia/ Flagler county line to New Smyrna Beach; and (3) in Duval, Clay and St. John’s counties along portions of the St. Johns River and adjacent waters, including Doctors Lake. The only restriction the Service is imposing calls for reduced boat speeds in these areas; other waterborne activities, including seaplane operations given the location, would not be affected.

Specific details about the locations and extent of these refuges, and the boat speed limitations in each area, are available in the Federal Register and from the Service’s internet site at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida.

Q4 Why are you designating these three sites as manatee refuges?

A4: In order to establish a site as a manatee protection area, the Service must determine that there is substantial evidence showing such establishment is necessary to prevent the take of one or more manatees. We reviewed the three sites and determined that these sites meet the regulatory standard for designation. This determination is based on aerial survey and telemetry data, mortality (carcass recovery) data, additional information from the Florida Marine Research Institute and the U. S. Geological Survey’s Sirenia Project, manatee experts, our best available data, and the public comments received.

Q5: How are the final designations different from the proposed regulations?

A5: Please review the Summary of Changes section of the Federal Register notice for detailed information related to the specific differences. The notice is available on our web site at: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida.

Q6: Why are they different?

A6: The areas designated in this final rulemaking are those that we have determined should be designated as manatee refuges, based on an analysis of the current, best available data, and the public comments received. Where the final designations differ from the proposal, we determined that either alternative or existing measures are sufficient to protect manatees. In such cases, our final rule reflects our effort to compliment and enhance such existing measures.

Please review the Summary of Changes section of the Federal Register notice for detailed information related to why specific changes were made. The notice is available on our web site at: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida.

Q7: Was the public given an opportunity to participate in this process?

A7: Yes. In the April 4, 2003, proposed rule (68 FR 16602), we requested all interested parties to submit factual reports or information that might contribute to the development of a final rule. We published legal notices announcing the proposal, inviting public comment, and announcing the schedule for public hearings, in the Fort Myers News-Press, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Naples Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Charlotte Sun-Herald, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Florida Times-Union, St. Augustine Record, and Clay Today. We held the public hearings at the Harborside Convention Hall in Fort Myers, Florida, on May 13, 2003; the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, on May 14, 2003; and at the University Center, University of North Florida, in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 15, 2003. Approximately 3,325 people were in attendance at the public hearings. We received oral comments from 203 individuals. The comment period closed on June 3, 2003.

In addition to soliciting comments from the public, we sought and received peer review comments from three independent experts in manatee ecology, boating activity, and waterway regulation.

During the comment period, we received approximately 5,931 written and oral comments concerning the proposal.

Most were form letters expressing support for the proposed designation; however, most substantive comments expressed concern about or opposition to the proposed action.

All comments, suggestions, recommendations and data information received are reviewed regardless of source, and given serious consideration. Multiple comments reflecting essentially the same position on any given issue gives us an understanding of stakeholder awareness and concerns, and that understanding contributes to the final decision.

Q8: Did the Service decision makers consider all comments and information received during the public comment period in reaching their final decision?

A8: Yes. By law, the regulation development process affords the public and affected stakeholders the opportunity to have their comments and concerns fairly considered. However, the process is not intended to result in final decisions based solely on popular vote. Conservation managers and biologists are obligated to consider the best scientific and commercial information available at the time, as well as stakeholder concerns over potential impacts of their actions and/or the need for such actions.

Q9: Did you consider economic and quality of life impacts on affected Stakeholders when making your final decision?

A9: Yes. We considered waterway access, impact on commercial and recreational waterway users, as well as community economic impacts in reaching final decision. We received numerous comments related to the potential economic and quality of life impacts our original proposal might have on our Stakeholders. Our final decision reflects our efforts to integrate Stakeholder conservation, economic and resource access and use concerns into manatee conservation efforts that reflect not only the best biological and commercial data and information available, but also where possible the needs of stakeholders at all levels.

Q10: I thought the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) was designating speed zones, refuges and sanctuaries; why are you duplicating their effort?

A10: We have concluded that the actions identified in the final rule are warranted and prudent to undertake at this time, and that sufficient information is currently available to support these designations. We recognize and support efforts to continually evaluate and improve information regarding manatee distribution and habitat use, boating activity, and the effectiveness of existing regulations. But we also know perfect information will never be available to definitively address all the issues that are raised by such rulemakings. We have attempted to design this final rule to address issues that we believe are necessary and appropriate to address at this time, without hindering the State’s ability to make additional changes as needed in the future. In those areas in which there is considerable overlap between our final designations and existing State regulations and the FWCC anticipates potential regulatory action in the near future (e.g., the Halifax River) we are committed to working with FWCC at that time to make necessary changes through the rulemaking process to our manatee protection areas to ensure consistency with State designations as long as manatee protection is not compromised. If changes are beneficial and/or necessary, we may initiate concurrent rulemaking with FWCC to ensure consistency with State-designated zones to meet this goal.

Q11: Will these manatee protection areas affect property rights?

A11: No. For each new protection area, designation of manatee refuges will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights. Public and private property owners and their designees will be permitted watercraft access and allowed to maintain property and waterways when their property is located in a manatee refuge. Any authorized boating activity can be conducted by operating watercraft at a reduced speed as specified in the final rule; maintenance activities are allowed, subject to applicable Federal, State or local permitting requirements.

Q12: Will designation of a site as a manatee refuge or sanctuary restrict my access to Florida’s waterways?

A12: No. Designation of an area as a manatee refuge will not restrict access to waterways. However, there will be restrictions on boat operating speeds in these areas.

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 refuges offers us an opportunity to implement 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 protection areas is expected to have an impact on overall adult manatee survival rates.

Q14: Can the Fish and Wildlife Service adequately post signs in these new areas?

A14: Yes. Posting of appropriate signs is a critical element for effective implementation of manatee refuges. We will involve the FWCC, Inland Navigation Districts, local governments, and the U.S. Coast Guard, as appropriate, in the development of sign plans for these Federal manatee refuges. The ability to adequately post and enforce designated sites was a factor in our final site designation process.

Q15: How will these new manatee refuges be enforced?

A15: Manatee refuges are only effective to the extent that boaters comply with posted regulations. As such, enforcement is an essential component of our effort to establish additional manatee refuges. State and local officers are authorized to enforce Federal manatee refuge regulations, just as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers can and do enforce State manatee protection regulations. We welcome any assistance that the State and local agencies can provide in the enforcement of these manatee protection areas, and we have made a commitment to ensure that adequate enforcement is provided for these areas.

Q16: How does this affect the Save the Manatee Club, et al. vs Ballard, et al. lawsuit settlement?

A16: The Service’s obligations under the original settlement agreement were completed on May 5, 2003 with the publication of its Record of Decision on the proposed Marine Mammal Protection Act incidental take regulations for Florida manatees. Additionally, publication of the Service’s final decision on the proposed rule (68 FR 16602) fulfills one of the commitments outlined in the Stipulated Order agreed to by the Service and the Plaintiffs in January 2003, and signed by Judge Emmett G. Sullivan, U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia, on March 18, 2003.

Q17: What are the next steps in the process?

A17: In August, the Service will put temporary buoys in place to alert boaters of the refuge boundaries. Permanent sign posting will begin in early September.

Q18: Is the Fish and Wildlife Service considering additional actions in other areas of the State?

A18: We are committed to continuing the protection of the manatee through a cooperative effort with our management partners at the Federal, State, and local levels, as well as efforts involving private entities and members of the public. We encourage State and local measures to improve manatee protection. Additionally, we have indicated that future actions could establish additional manatee protection areas if the need becomes apparent.

Q19: What is Take?

A19: The term take is defined under both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

The ESA defines take as "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 essential 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.

The MMPA defines take as "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal." Our implementing regulations (50 CFR 18.3) further clarify "take" as to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill any marine mammal, including, without limitation, any of the following: The collection of dead animals or parts thereof; the restraint or detention of a marine mammal, no matter how temporary; tagging a marine mammal; or the negligent or intentional operation of an aircraft or vessel, or the doing of any other negligent or intentional act which results in the disturbing or molesting of a marine mammal. "Harassment" is defined under the MMPA as any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which: (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering. You can find other relevant definitions at 50 CFR 18.27(c).

Q20: How is "slow speed" defined in these regulated areas?

A20: "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. Exceptions to slow speed restrictions are contained in 50 CFR 17.105 and include activities "...reasonably necessary to prevent the loss of life or property due to weather conditions or other reasonably unforseen circumstances, or to render necessary assistance to persons or property."


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Last modified August 6, 2003