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North Florida Field Office

Fact Sheet for the De-designation of Two Federal Manatee Protection Areas in Florida


Background

Manatees are Federally protected under both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Currently, vessel-related mortality in manatees probably poses the greatest human-caused threat to the species.  Historically, collisions with watercraft are responsible for about 25 percent of all manatee deaths.

In January 2000, several groups and individuals filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Administrative Procedure Act. Four groups representing development and boating interests intervened. A settlement agreement was approved by the court in January 2001. In October 2001, the plaintiffs filed a Notice of Controversy with the Department of Justice challenging certain actions taken by the Service, and alleging these actions violated the settlement agreement.

In July 2002, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the Service violated the settlement agreement by failing to designate a sufficient number of refuges and sanctuaries throughout peninsular Florida.  In August 2002, the Court issued an order requiring the Service to publish a final rule for new manatee refuges and sanctuaries.

Issue

The Service published its final rule designating 13 manatee protection areas in Florida – including the Pansy Bayou Manatee Refuge in Sarasota County and the Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuge in Brevard County – to the Federal Register (67 FR 68450) on Nov. 8, 2002. In designating these areas, the Service recognized that the State might provide comparable protection in some areas.

The Pansy Bayou Manatee Refuge and Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuge are two such areas. State and Federal manatee-protection regulations both called for slow, year-round vessel speed. As such the Service proposed to withdraw its refuge designation and to defer to the State’s regulations governing waterborne activities currently in effect in both of these areas (F.A.C. 68C-22.026 and 22.006, respectively) in October 2003. Public comments on the proposal were sought for a 30-day period.

Status

After reviewing State regulations and protection measures for these areas, and considering the information received during the comment period, the Service determined that withdrawal of the Federal designations of the Pansy Bayou and Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuges is warranted.  The Service believes that the State will provide comparable manatee protection at Pansy Bayou Manatee Refuge and Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuge, and that the State’s variance and exemption regulations will not decrease manatee protection there.

The Service’s withdrawal of Federal designations is consistent with its previously published position that it will support State and local conservation measures when such measures provide a comparable level of manatee protection.

Questions?

The final decision and associated information materials are available at the Service’s Web site: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida.  Paper copies may be requested by e-mail at manatee@fws.gov, by fax at 904-232-2404, or by writing to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: MPA Withdrawal Rule, 6620 Southpoint Dr. S, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216. Please include your name and street mailing address.

If you have specific questions or need special assistance, please contact the Jacksonville Field Office at 904-232-2580, ext. 109.


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Last modified July 7, 2004