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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Reaches Agreement to Increase Protections for Florida Manatees


January 24, 2003

Christine Eustis,
(404) 679-7287
Chuck Underwood, (904) 232-2580 x109


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take a number of additional steps to protect the Florida manatee, including proposing three new manatee protection areas and establishing specific time lines for putting up signs to alert boaters that they are entering manatee protection areas, under the terms of an agreement filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today.

"We expect these measures to help reduce the high rate of manatee deaths from collisions with boats," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "But, the success of our efforts, including the numerous actions to protect manatees that we have taken in the past, depend on responsible boater behavior. We ask that boaters comply with all posted speed zones."

To complement the terms of the agreement, the Service plans to significantly increase the presence of Federal law enforcement officers on the water to ensure boater compliance with speed zones and conduct formal consultations for proposed watercraft-related activities that may affect manatees. In addition, the National Park Service will strengthen manatee protection efforts within national parks throughout Florida.

The agreement includes the following commitments:

  • On or before March 31, 2003, the Service will submit to the Federal Register for publication a proposed rule to designate additional manatee protection areas in the Caloosahatchee River (Lee County), the St. John's River (Duval, Clay and St. John=s Counties), and the Halifax River/Tomoka River (Volusia County). (See the Stipulated Order for exact locations.)

  • The Service will seek public comment on this proposed rule and submit to the Federal Register its final decision on the proposed rule on or before July 31, 2003.

  • For any areas that are designated as manatee refuges or sanctuaries, the Service will place temporary signs/buoys delineating the newly designated manatee protection areas by August 31, 2003 to notify the public about applicable restrictions.

  • The Service will initiate the process for placing permanent signs at designated manatee protection areas by September 1, 2003, and commit to getting these areas posted as soon as practicable.

  • For the 13 areas designated by the Service as manatee protection areas in the final rule published in the Federal Register on November 8, 2002, the Service commits to initiating the process of erecting permanent signs for the areas by February 10, 2003 and to complete the placement of signs in these areas as soon as practicable.

  • On November 8, 2002, the Service published a Notice seeking public input for suggested additional measures for the protection and recovery of manatees. The Service agrees to provide information received during the Notice=s public comment period to all parties in the lawsuit by February 12, 2003, and meet with the parties no later than March 10, 2003, to discuss measures that were identified during this process.

In addition, the agreement refers to three recently signed internal memorandums that will enhance the Service's efforts (and those of the National Park Service) to protect manatees.

  • In order to provide greater certainty to Federal agencies and the public in the Section 7 consultation process under the Endangered Species Act, the Service will conduct the formal consultation process with other Federal agencies for every proposed watercraft- related activity within peninsular Florida (defined as the coastline and navigable waterways of the State of Florida from the mouth of the St. Mary's River on the Atlantic Coast to the mouth of the Aucilla River on the Gulf of Mexico Coast) that "may affect" manatees. Formal consultation procedures also include consultation on projects batched together and programmatic consultations. Biological opinions will be issued for all projects that may affect manatees. This process will be used until incidental take regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act are finalized and corresponding Letters of Authorization are issued. The Service will not issue concurrence letters for these proposed activities during this interim period.

  • The Service commits to significantly increasing the resources dedicated to law enforcement efforts to protect manatees. This year, the Service will conduct task force operations during high-use weekends as well as weekday patrols in high priority manatee areas throughout Florida. The Service will work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to coordinate enforcement activities.

  • The National Park Service will strengthen their efforts to protect manatees at national parks throughout Florida.

"Our goal is that these further measures will decrease manatee mortality, especially in parts of Southwest Florida. If we are able to see improvement as a result of these measures, then we can expect to have greater flexibility in how we approach watercraft access projects in the future," said Hamilton. "We continue to believe that the Florida manatee can co-exist with boaters."

The Service is committed to working in good faith with all parties in the lawsuit, the State of Florida, and the public to ensure the continued protection and recovery of the endangered Florida manatee, as required by Federal law. The Service will seek public input throughout the process of designating additional manatee protection areas to address the concerns and questions of the public.

A copy of the final agreement and the associated memorandums are available online at:

For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at or

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Atlanta, GA 30345
Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

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