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North Florida Field Office

News Release


For Immediate Release

Date: November 1, 2002
Release #: 011-02
Media Contacts:
Chuck Underwood, 904-731-3332

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalizes 13 Federal
manatee protection areas in eight Florida counties

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today extended Federal protection for manatees to 13 locations in eight counties throughout Florida. The regulations, which were sent to the Federal Register earlier today for publication, finalize the Service’s actions on sites originally proposed in August 2001. Publication of this final rule meets the requirements of the Save the Manatee Club et al v. Ballard Settlement Agreement and ensures compliance with the related U. S. District Court ruling and orders.

One area in Citrus County, one area in Pinellas County, and two areas in Hillsborough County are designated as manatee sanctuaries in which all waterborne activities would be prohibited, with exceptions for adjoining property owners. The nine areas located in Hillsborough, Sarasota, Charlotte, De Soto, Lee, and Brevard counties are designated as manatee refuges in which certain waterborne activities would be prohibited or regulated. The Service also withdrew the South Gandy Navigation Channel Manatee Refuge from its rule because Pinellas County has more comprehensive measures in place at this site. Waterborne activities will be prohibited within the sanctuaries, while watercraft will be required to proceed at "idle speed" or "slow speed" (as specified) within the refuges on a seasonal basis. Exceptions are provided to allow adjacent public and private land owners vessel and maintenance access, subject to any permitting requirements.

The Service has worked in close coordination with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other local agencies regarding the state and local manatee protection actions.

According to Sam Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director, this effort will lead to enhanced protection efforts for the manatee.

"As we finalized our decision on these remaining manatee protection sites, we worked with state and local agencies to ensure that where possible our actions complement their approved or existing plans," said Hamilton.

"Reducing the take of manatees has always been, and continues to be, our primary focus in developing and implementing these protections," Hamilton said. "Reducing take is a key element in the long-term recovery of this magnificent species."

In developing its final rule, the Service took into consideration the biological needs of the manatee, as well as the potential economic impacts the Federal designations might have. The designation of these manatee protection areas will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights. Public and private property owners and their designees would be permitted watercraft access and allowed to maintain property and waterways when their property is located in a manatee sanctuary or refuge. Any authorized boating activity would be conducted by operating watercraft at idle speed in sanctuaries and slow speed in refuges.

The Service’s final rule comes after an extensive period of public comment. After publishing its proposed rule on August 3, 2001, the Service conducted four public hearings: September 10 in Crystal River, September 11 in Clearwater, September 12 in Venice, and September 13 in Melbourne. The agency received about 3,500 public comments during the 60-day public comment period. The proposed rule followed an earlier public review process, during which the Service held six public workshops and collected thousands of public comments on its proposal to consider sites throughout Florida as possible Federal manatee protection areas.

"We have worked hard to take into account the public’s comments and concerns. We believe our final decisions reflect our commitment to conservation of this species," said Dave Hankla, the Service’s North Florida Field Supervisor.

Protection and subsequent enforcement of the Federal manatee protection areas will take effect once the Service has posted the sites with visible signs and placed announcements in local newspapers. The areas will be enforced by Federal and State law enforcement agents, who are currently on the water enforcing manatee speed zones throughout the State of Florida.

The final rule, a fact sheet and Frequently Asked Questions are available online at our web site. Paper copies of the documents are available by writing to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: MPA Final Rule, 6620 Southpoint Drive South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216-0958; by calling 904/232-2580; by fax at 904/232-2404; or by sending your request via e-mail to manatee@fws.gov.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.

- FWS - 

Definition of "Slow" and "Idle" Speeds

"Idle" speed is defined as the minimum speed necessary to maintain watercraft steerage.

"Slow" speed is defined as the speed in 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. Protection areas may also carry a channel qualifier: exempt or included. In such instances, this refers to the existing marked navigational channel.

Federal Manatee Sanctuaries

Citrus County

The Blue Waters Manatee Sanctuary is a seasonal manatee sanctuary, containing approximately 0.67 ha (1.66 acres), at the headwaters of the Homosassa River, adjacent to the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, commonly referred to as the Blue Waters, in Citrus County. All waterborne activities will be prohibited in this area from November 15 through March 31.

Hillsborough County

The Big Bend Manatee Sanctuary is a manatee sanctuary, containing approximately 12.08 ha (29.85 acres), at the Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend Electric Generating Station’s discharge canal in Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County. This closure will prohibit all waterborne activity at this site from November 15 through March 31. In addition, the Service is designating a manatee refuge in the area surrounding the sanctuary (see "Big Bend Manatee Refuge" below)

The Port Sutton Manatee Sanctuary is a seasonal manatee sanctuary, encompassing approximately 1.1 ha (2.7 acres), at the warm water discharge of the Tampa Electric Company’s Gannon Electric Generating Station in Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County. This seasonal closure will prohibit all waterborne activity at this site from November 15 through March 31, inclusive. In addition, we are designating a manatee refuge in the area surrounding the sanctuary (see "Port Sutton Manatee Refuge" below).

Pinellas County

The Bartow Electric Generating Plant Manatee Sanctuary is a seasonal manatee sanctuary, containing approximately 12.07 ha (29.82 acres), at the warm water discharge of the Bartow Electric Generating Plant in Tampa Bay, Pinellas County. This seasonal closure will prohibit all waterborne activity at this site from November 15 through March 31.

Federal Manatee Refuges

Hillsborough County

The Big Bend Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, encompassing approximately 89.35 ha (220.79 areas), in the waters adjacent to and south of the manatee sanctuary at the Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend Electric Generating Station on Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County to provide watercraft ingress and egress to the lagoon and canals in North Apollo Beach. Watercraft activity within this refuge will be regulated to idle speed from November 15 through March 31.

The Port Sutton Manatee Refuge is the Port Sutton area surrounding the manatee sanctuary at the Tampa Electric Company’s Port Sutton (Gannon) Electric Generating Station, on Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County, as a manatee refuge. The refuge area includes approximately 39.2 ha (96.9 acres). Watercraft will be required to proceed at idle speed within this refuge from November 15 through March 31.

Sarasota County

The Pansy Bayou Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, containing approximately 47 ha (116.1 acres) in the northern Pansy Bayou area between City Island and the John Ringling Parkway Bridge on Sarasota Bay in Sarasota County, to regulate vessel traffic to slow speed year-round.

The Little Sarasota Bay Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, containing approximately 214.20 ha (529.40 acres), to control vessel speeds in the little Sarasota Bay area between the Blackburn Point Bridge and Intracoastal Waterway Channel Marker "40" in Sarasota County. The speed designation for this area will be slow speed, 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour) in the channel, year-round.

Charlotte County

The Lemon Bay Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, containing approximately 383.61 ha (948.06 acres), in Lemon Bay, Charlotte County, from the Charlotte County/Sarasota County boundary to a line approximately 1.6 km (1 mile) south of the Bay Road Bridge, for the purpose of regulating vessel speeds. Speeds will be restricted to slow speed, 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour) in the channel, year-round.

Charlotte and De Soto counties

The Peace River Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, containing 1,698.11 ha (4,196.11 acres) more or less, in the Peace River (located on the northeast corner of Charlotte Harbor) in Charlotte and De Soto Counties. This refuge will include the river and specific associated waters northeast of U.S. Highway 41. Waters within described areas will be regulated to allow watercraft to travel at a maximum speed of 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour), while other waters will be regulated to provide for slow-speed vessel operation. These regulations will be in effect year-round.

The described areas include:

(1) slow speed 300 meter (1,000 feet) shoreline buffers between the U.S. Highway 41 and I-75 bridges;

(2) slow speed outside of the marked navigation channel, 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour) in the marked channel, between the I-75 bridge and red channel marker "14";

(3) 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour), upstream of red channel marker "14";

(4) slow speed in Jim Long Lake, Hunter Creek, and Deep Creek; and

(5) slow speed in Shell Creek (if the U.S. Coast Guard or the State of Florida approve and designate a marked channel in this area, the channel may be designated as 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour) within the channel.

Lee County

The Shell Island Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, containing approximately 32.60 ha (80.50 acres), for the purpose of regulating vessel speeds at slow speed within the navigation channel that is located just north of Shell Island at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. This regulation will be in effect year-round.

Brevard County

The Haulover Canal Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, containing approximately 8.95 ha (22.11 acres), within the confines of Haulover Canal, located at the north end of Merritt Island between the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon, in Brevard County. Waters will be designated as slow speed, channel included, year-round.

The Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuge is a manatee refuge, containing approximately 23.9 ha (59.1 acres), to regulate vessel operation at slow speed year-round in the area adjacent to Municipal Park, just west of Cocoa Beach in the Banana River, in Brevard County.

– FWS –


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Last modified January 14, 2004