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North Florida Field Office

News Release

For Immediate Release

Date: April 7, 2004
Media Contact: Chuck Underwood, 904/731-3332
Release #: 003-04

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides emergency protection for manatees in five areas of Lee County, Florida

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it has extended Federal emergency manatee protection to five former State manatee protection zones in Lee County, Florida.

The areas affected by this emergency designation are in Matlacha Pass, Estero Bay, southwest side of Pine Island, eastern San Carlos Bay and the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. These areas are in the same general vicinity where a manatee was recently found dead of watercraft inflicted wounds near Pine Island.

The Service made the decision to establish emergency protection for manatees in these areas after carefully assessing the impacts of recent State court decisions. The Service believes emergency protection is needed to protect manatees from imminent take. The Service’s assessment is based on the best available information regarding interactions between manatees and humans in these five areas.

“We are taking this emergency action in areas where we believe an immediate danger to manatees exists,” said Sam Hamilton, the Service’s southeast regional director. “As we have seen recently – and this is also supported by historic scientific data – manatees in these areas are at risk of being killed or injured in collisions with boats. As the summer approaches and water temperatures continue to rise, more and more manatees will come to these areas.”

Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Service can designate emergency protection measures when it determines that “take” of a manatee is imminent and this added protection is necessary to prevent the taking. Take is generally defined as the harassment, harm, death or injury of a listed species, along with a variety of other harmful actions.

The emergency designation of these Federal manatee protection areas is effective immediately.

These Federal protection areas correspond exactly to the previous State zones. The Federal restrictions now in place in each area are also the same as the previous State restrictions: They require watercraft to proceed at slow speed outside designated channels and at less than 25 miles per hour in the designated channels. However, there are no provisions under Federal law to allow exemptions to the Federally designated manatee protection areas. Thus, businesses and individuals who previously held State exemption permits should be aware that those permits are no longer valid.

This Federal manatee refuge will not eliminate access rights for owners of waterway properties. Public and private property owners are permitted to access property that lies within a designated manatee refuge. They may conduct any authorized boating activity by operating watercraft at slow speed according to posted limits in designated refuge areas.

Additional information on this action, including maps of the designated areas, is available on the Service’s North Florida web site at northflorida.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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses more than 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 fishery resource offices and 81 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 –

A highly detailed description of the boundaries of the Pine Island-Estero Bay Manatee Refuge can be found in today’s Federal Register. It is also available here.

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Last modified April 7, 2004