North Florida Ecological Services Office
Southeast Region

Frequently Asked Questions
Proposed Establishment of a Manatee Refuge in Kings Bay

Q: What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing?

A: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to broaden federal manatee protections in Citrus County by designating all of Kings Bay, located in Crystal River, Florida, as a year-round, permanent manatee refuge where certain waterborne activities would be regulated to prevent the take of one or more manatees.

Q: What is "take"?

A: “Take,” as defined by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 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 the Service 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. The Service defines “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. “Take,” as defined by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), means “to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.” “Harassment” under the MMPA means any act of pursuit, torment, annoyance which (1) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or, (2) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing a disruption of behavioral patterns.”

While the ESA provides for the authorization to issue incidental take permits for otherwise lawful activities that could take a federally-listed species, the MMPA does not allow incidental take.

Q: What are manatee refuges and sanctuaries?

A: By regulations established under the authorities of the ESA and the MMPA, the Service can establish manatee protection areas for the purpose of preventing the take of manatees. Manatee protection areas can be either manatee sanctuaries or manatee refuges. Manatee refuges are areas where certain waterborne activities are restricted to prevent the taking of one or more manatees. Manatee sanctuaries are areas in which all waterborne activities are prohibited.

Manatee refuges, such as proposed for Kings Bay, are areas in which the Service has determined that certain waterborne activities would result in the taking of one or more manatees, or that certain waterborne activities must be restricted to prevent the taking of one or more manatees, including but not limited to a taking by harassment. 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 (including boats, personal watercraft, and other vehicles used to move across or underneath the water’s surface), and dredging and filling operations.

The Kings Bay manatee refuge joins an existing federal manatee protection network of 11 sanctuaries and 13 refuges throughout Florida.

Q: Where is the proposed manatee refuge located and when would it be in place?

A: The manatee refuge is in Citrus County and would encompass all waters of Kings Bay, including its tributaries and adjoining water bodies, upstream of the confluence of Kings Bay and Crystal River. The refuge and the additional protection it makes possible would be in place year-round.

Q: Is the manatee refuge designation the same as an area designated as a National Wildlife Refuge?

A: No. While manatee refuges designated under the ESA/MMPA and National Wildlife Refuges designated under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 are both called refuges, the two differ. Manatee refuges are established solely to protect manatees against the threat of take. They are protection areas designated in the water and are not land acquisitions or land parcels. As stated above, manatee refuges are areas in which the Service has determined that certain waterborne activities would result in the taking of one or more manatees, or that certain waterborne activities must be restricted to prevent the taking of one or more manatees. This proposed permanent Kings Bay manatee refuge would join an existing federal manatee protection network of 11 manatee sanctuaries and 13 manatee refuges that already exist.

National Wildlife Refuges, part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, are federal lands set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants.

Q: Why propose establishing Kings Bay as a permanent manatee refuge? Why year-round?

A: The Service designated the first manatee sanctuaries in 1980. At that time, about 100 manatees were using the network of springs and the number of people viewing manatees was estimated at 30,000 to 40,000 per year. Today, over 550 manatees use Kings Bay and winter manatee viewing activities are estimated to exceed 100,000 people each winter. In recent years, manatees have also been observed using Kings Bay during the summer months.

The number of manatees using Kings Bay throughout the year has simply outgrown the capacity of existing federal protection measures and human use of the bay has increased beyond the impacts originally considered when the existing protections were put in place.

Manatee mortalities within Kings Bay have also increased during this period of time. Of the 16 watercraft-related manatee deaths known to have occurred in Kings Bay, 13 of those were in the last 10 years. Seven of these deaths occurred during the summer months between May 1 and August 30.

Q: What effect would this designation have on the existing seasonal manatee sanctuaries and state zones?

A: The existing federal seasonal sanctuaries and State protection zones remain in place. The proposed manatee refuge overlays all of Kings Bay and broadens federal manatee protections beyond the winter season to address manatee use throughout the year.

During the winter season the proposed rule affords conservation managers the flexibility to implement additional “no-entry” areas adjacent to existing seasonal sanctuaries and other areas where manatees crowd during cold weather. These proposed additional “no-entry” areas are limited in scope and duration to address immediate biological needs during these periods.

Throughout the year the remaining proposed waterborne activity restrictions would be in place. Where federal and state zones overlap, the more restrictive of the two should be observed and will be in enforced.

Q: What was considered in the development of the proposed Kings Bay manatee refuge rule?

A: The proposed rule reflects the best available scientific and commercial information regarding the manatee and waterway uses in Crystal River and Citrus County. This information included everything considered in the development of the emergency rule and the Service’s thorough consideration of the impacts the proposed action might have on the local community. Much of the information was garnered from public comments, suggestions, and concerns expressed over the past several years at: state stakeholder listening sessions; dive shop and manatee tour operator meetings; on-the-water law enforcement patrol reports; city council and individual representative meetings; and e-mails and correspondence sent by many Crystal River and Citrus County residents, visitors, and stakeholder groups, as well as state and local agencies.

Q: What is the Service’s legal authority to establish manatee refuges or sanctuaries?

A: The authority to establish protected areas for the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is provided by title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 17, subpart J. under the authorities of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended and codified in 16 USC 1531 et. seq., by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), as amended and codified in 16 USC 1361 et. seq., and regulations promulgated pursuant to these Acts.

Q: Florida’s statewide 2010 and 2011 manatee counts were high, as were the counts in Citrus County. Why is the Service proposing to proceed with the designation of an additional manatee refuge?

A: The Service is pleased with recent survey counts and sees 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 the manatee population grows or declines is primarily dependent on the survival rate of adult manatees. The designation of an additional federal manatee protection area is expected to prevent the take of one or more manatees and further improve adult survival rates, provide the Service with a valuable adaptive management tool to meet current and future manatee needs in Kings Bay, address harassment concerns, and support the full recovery of the species.

Q: What are the differences between this proposed rule and the recent emergency rule implemented for the 2010/2011 winter season?

A: Key differences between this proposal and the expired emergency designation include:

On a year-round basis within the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge:

  • Watercraft would be restricted to slow speed or to more restrictive measures (existing manatee sanctuaries and idle speed zones, new temporary no entry areas).
  • The following activities would be prohibited: and, if this rule is made final, these would be legally enforceable by marine law enforcement officers:
    • Chasing or pursuing manatee(s).
    • Disturbing or touching resting or feeding manatee(s).
    • Diving from the surface on to resting or feeding manatee(s).
    • Cornering or surrounding or attempting to corner or surround manatee(s).
    • Riding, holding, grabbing, or pinching or attempting to ride, hold, grab, or pinch manatee(s).
    • Poking, prodding, or stabbing, or attempting to poke, prod, or stab manatee(s) with anything, including hands and feet.
    • Standing on or attempting to stand on manatee(s).
    • Separating a mother and calf or attempting to separate a mother and calf.
    • Separating manatee(s) from a group or attempting to separate manatee(s) from a group.
    • Giving manatee(s) anything to eat or drink or attempting to give manatee(s) anything to eat or drink.
    • Actively initiating contact with belted and/or tagged manatee(s) and associated gear, including any belts, harnesses, tracking devices, and antennae.
    • Interfering with rescue and research activities.
    • Using mooring and float lines that can entangle manatees.

In addition to the above prohibited activities, the following waterborne activities would be prohibited within Three Sisters Springs from November 15 to March 31:

  • Entering Three Sisters Spring between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Scuba diving
  • Fishing, including but not limited to fishing by hook and line, by cast net, or spear.

To address cold weather events occurring prior to November 15, or after March 31, the Service could designate temporary no entry areas within the existing sanctuaries and in House, Jurassic, and Idiot’s Delight No.2 springs for periods not to exceed 14-days.

From November 15, to March 31:

  • The seven existing sanctuaries would remain in effect.
  • The Three Sisters Springs-specific measures would be in effect.
  • The Service could designate temporary no entry areas at sites adjacent to the existing sanctuaries and in House, Jurassic, and Idiot's Delight No.2 springs, as specified.

Q: How will the manatee protection area affect private lands or other landowners?

A: Manatee protection areas are designated in the water and do not involve land acquisitions or land parcels. Public and private waterfront property owners and their designees retain riparian access to their properties and can maintain property and waterways when their property adjoins or is located in a manatee refuge. Public and private waterfront property owners would be required to obtain a sticker and letter of authorization allowing them to operate their boats and conduct property and waterway maintenance activities in a manner consistent with the refuge measures that are in effect adjacent to their property. Maintenance activities will continue to be subject to applicable federal, state, or local permitting requirements.

Q: What if my property falls within a “no entry” area in the manatee refuge?

A: If “no entry” areas are designated adjacent to privately-owned shoreline, these designations will not prevent riparian landowners from traveling to and from their property nor will they affect the landowners’ ability to maintain property and waterways. In the event that their property adjoins a “no entry” area, property owners will be allowed to travel to and from their property at idle speeds. These owners would need to contact the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge to obtain a sticker that identifies their boat as belonging to an adjoining waterfront property owner.

Q: Is the public being given an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed rule?

A: Yes. The Service works to actively engage conservation partners and the public in search of improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover wildlife, and encourages all stakeholders to comment on the proposed designation.

Please make your comments as specific as possible and explain the basis for them. In addition, please include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to authenticate any scientific or commercial data you reference or provide. In particular, the Service seeks comments concerning the following:

  • The reasons why this area should or should not be designated as a manatee refuge, including information that supports the need for any changes;
  • Current or planned activities in the subject area and their possible effects on manatees;
  • Any foreseeable economic or other impacts resulting from the proposed designation;
  • Any substantive information on real or potential effects of the proposed manatee refuge on manatees; and,
  • Any actions that could be considered in lieu of, or in conjunction with, the proposed designation that would provide equivalent protection to the manatee against the threat of take.

Please note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the proposed rule without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a final decision, as the ESA and the Service’s implementing regulations direct decisions be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.”

The Service has also scheduled an informational open house and formal public hearing on July 7, 2011, as follows:

Location:
College of Central Florida - Citrus Campus
CF Conference Center
3800 S. Lecanto Hwy.
Lecanto, FL 34461-9026

Informational Open House: 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Formal Public Hearing: 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The informational open house affords the Citrus County community and other interested parties an informal opportunity to hear information and ask questions about the proposed manatee refuge rule. The formal public hearing following the open house provides a formal, structured opportunity for interested parties and stakeholders to verbally express their comments on the proposed rule.

Q: Are comments submitted at the public hearing given greater consideration?

A: No. All comments and information provided during the public comment period receive equal consideration regardless of how they are submitted and will be considered in making a final decision.

Q: How do I submit comments or information?

A: You may submit comments on the proposed rule and EA by one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R4–ES–2010–0079].
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. [FWS–R4–ES–2010–0079]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
  • Verbally by attending the formal public hearing scheduled for July 7, 2011; see above for location and time. You may also submit written comments at the public hearing.

Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before August 22, 2011. The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes. UPDATE: The public comment period closed August 22,2011. Comments may be viewed via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Search for Docket No. [FWS–R4–ES–2010–0079]. Please note that comments received after the close of the open public comment period are not consider in the final decision process; although they may post to the website.

Q: Why wasn’t the public engaged in the drafting phase of the proposed rule prior to publication, like the Service has with the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) development process?

A: The CCP is an important management document that is non-regulatory in nature; as such, there is greater flexibility in engaging the public early in the plan development process.

It is important to note that the proposed rule does reflect all the information considered in the development of the emergency rule and the Service’s thorough consideration of the impacts the proposed action might have on the local community.

Much of the information was garnered from public comments, suggestions, and concerns expressed over the past several years at: state stakeholder listening sessions; dive shop and manatee tour operator meetings; on-the-water law enforcement patrol reports; city council and individual representative meetings; and e-mails and correspondence sent by many Crystal River and Citrus County residents, visitors, stakeholder groups, as well as state and local agencies.

Q: Will all comments received during the public comment period be evaluated and considered fully in relation to any final rule?

A: Yes. While the Service cannot guarantee a specific outcome, it has a long history of ensuring final rules reflect public feedback; particularly when it relates to manatees. Parties who are interested should submit comments as explained in Q.15. Please make comments as specific as possible and include data and information that is the basis for them.

Q: Does the Service consider the economic impact its proposed rule might have on the local community?

A: Yes. The Service is required to consider whether or not a proposed action might have a significant economic impact on the regulated publics. Potential impacts to local communities, businesses, resources users, and property owners are all considered as outlined in the proposed rule and associated environmental assessment. The Service’s evaluation of the economic impacts of this proposed rule can be found in the Federal Register Notice under the section entitled “Required Determinations” and sub-headings “Economic Benefit” and “Economic Impacts.”

Q: What about property values? I am concerned that adding these restrictions will further decrease the value of my waterfront property.

A: The Service understands these concerns. However, the best available information indicates waterfront property owners may benefit from manatee protection areas, such as the area described in this proposal. Studies have found slow speed zones may increase property values by reducing boat noises and fast traffic, as well as making it easier for boats to enter and leave primary waterways. Reductions in boat wake associated with speed zones may have some economic benefit for waterfront property owners related to decreased costs for maintenance and repair of shoreline stabilization (i.e., seawalls along the water’s edge). However, such benefits cannot be quantified with available information.

Q: What other impacts did you consider while developing the proposed rule?

A: The Service considered impacts the proposal might have on resource user throughout the year, including the loss of the summer watersports zone. The Service originally supported the State’s decision to establish the watersports zone over a decade ago. At the time, manatee use during the summer was negligible, and there were no known manatee mortalities within Kings Bay. That is no longer the case.

Manatees are now routinely using Kings Bay throughout the year, including the warmer months of summer, and the number of mortalities associated with the watersports zone has trended upward.

The impacts additional travel times might have on commercial and recreational watercraft users over existing travel times were also considered.

Recreational users will likely require additional time needed to transit this area at speeds slower than those historically present. However, the added travel times are unlikely to exceed an additional 30 minutes.

Commercial charter boat activities would experience similar impacts that could reduce the number and length of scheduled trips.

Commercial fishing operations may find increased transit times affecting efficiencies. However, because added travel times are unlikely to exceed an additional 15 to 25 minutes beyond existing travel times, it is unlikely that the proposed rule will result in a significant economic impact on the commercial fishing industry.

Crabbers will need to modify their gear to ensure that manatees do not become entangled in crab pot float lines. However, the exact number of crabbers fishing in Kings Bay is unknown, and the extent to which this will impact these users is unknown.

Q: How is "idle" speed defined in regulated areas?

A: “Idle” speed is defined as the minimum speed necessary to maintain steerage.

Q: How is "slow" speed defined in regulated areas?

A: “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 unforeseen circumstances, or to render necessary assistance to persons or property.”

Q: Will designation of a site as a year-round manatee refuge restrict my access to Florida’s waterways?

A: No. Designation of an area as a manatee refuge will not restrict access to waterways. Although you will have to avoid designated sanctuaries and “no entry” areas and follow specific restrictions within the refuge as posted and/or permitted.

Q: Is the use of Kings Bay by an increasing number of manatees throughout the year contributing to water-quality problems in the Bay?

A: No. While manatees eat lots of plants and produce large waste streams, analyses of manatee feces demonstrate that these waste streams do not pollute local waterways. Investigators observed that manatee feces are “remarkably clean” and are not a source of water pollution. Local resource agencies associate Kings Bay's water quality problems with nutrient run off from fertilizers, effluent seepage from septic tanks, and other human sources.

Q: How will this rule impact the area commonly known as Three Sisters Springs?

A: Within Three Sisters Springs from November 15, 2010, to March 31, 2011, entering the springs between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., scuba diving and fishing (including but not limited to with hook and line, by cast net, or spear) are prohibited. In addition, the general prohibitions described under Q9 apply in this area as well. This rule also allows for the possible establishment of an expanded no entry area around the existing sanctuary at Idiot’s Delight depending on the use of the sanctuary by manatees during the winter season.

During the record breaking, sustained cold temperatures in January 2010, the Service asked local residents to refrain from entering Three Sisters Springs for ten days. This rule gives the Service the flexibility to deal with such unusual events by allowing for the expansion of the current sanctuary at Idiot's Delight to a degree that could close all or part of Three Sisters Springs, depending on use by manatees. If such an extreme weather event were to repeat itself, the Service could chose to close all or part of the springs temporarily. But while this rule does give the Service flexibility to manage the springs by opening or closing all or part of them, there is no expectation that the entirety of Three Sisters Springs would be closed to the public for the duration of the winter season.

Q: Does the rule conflict with the current Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) being developed?

A: No. The rule is consistent with draft CCP alternatives currently being considered.

Q: Didn’t the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) designate speed zones, refuges and sanctuaries in the Kings Bay-Crystal River area? Is the Service coordinating its efforts with the state agencies?

A: Yes. These provisions will remain in place, when this proposed rule is in effect. Further, joint discussions with FWC regarding the issues and concerns associated with Kings Bay manatee protections and possible solutions have been and will continue to be a critical part of the Service’s species management processes.

Q: Can the Fish and Wildlife Service adequately post regulation signs and boundary signs?

A: Yes. Posting of manatee refuges is required. The Service will engage the FWC, Inland Navigation Districts, local governments, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard, as appropriate, in initial posting and the development of a sign plan for this manatee refuge. The ability to adequately post and enforce designated sites is always a factor in the site selection process.

Q: How will the proposed manatee refuge be enforced?

A: Manatee refuges are only effective to the extent that waterway resource users comply with posted regulations and established prohibited activities. As such, enforcement will continue to be an essential component of the effort. The Service, state, and other agency law enforcement officers will enforce the newly established manatee refuge. Non-federal officers will continue to be 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.

Enforcement around existing sanctuaries was increased over the past several years in response to public concerns over harassment, increased manatee use of Kings Bay, and increases in human activities. The Service believes these joint efforts contributed in part to an overall reduction in the number of complaints regarding harassment. This emergency establishment of a manatee refuge and the initiation of a proposed rulemaking further that effort.

Q: What are the next steps in the process?

A: Following the close of the public comment period, the Service evaluates the comments and information received and will then proceed to complete the final rule, which may be published in early fall 2011 in the Federal Register.

Q: Where can I find more information on this rule and other manatee conservation/recovery efforts?

A: Visit the Service’s website at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/

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Last updated: August 26, 2011