NOTE: This is a guest post from Karen Vale, Campaign Coordinator at the World Society for the Protections of Animals (WSPA).
Every year off the coast of Florida, West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) are entangled in fishing gear and anchor lines, injured or killed by collisions with high speed boats, or harassed either indirectly or directly by tourists. The area of King’s Bay (Citrus County, Fla.) is critical to manatees’ survival, because they use it year-round for feeding and sheltering. Greater protection of this important area would help safeguard hundreds of manatees from injuries and death.
The Proposed Refuge
Last summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a protected refuge area in King’s Bay that would help protect manatees from certain human activities, such as watercraft collisions and harassment. They also requested public comments about their proposed plan.
WSPA submitted comments asking that the FWS designate all of King’s Bay as a year-round, permanent refuge. More than 25,000 concerned individuals signed our petition and supported our comments. Thanks in part to this strong public support, FWS announced a proposed rule on Mar. 16, establishing the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge.
Manatee Protection Measures
The refuge will greatly improve protections for manatees. For example:
- To prevent injuries and deaths caused by watercraft collisions, speeds will be regulated throughout the refuge all year
- Where high-speed watercraft operation is allowed, it will be reduced from 123 to 76 days per year and confined to daylight hours, three months per year
- The seven existing sanctuary areas will be maintained
- Because manatees are attracted to anchored boats, anchoring will be prohibited in the high-speed area to help keep them out of harm’s way
- To reduce harassment and injuries associated with human interactions and manatee viewing, no-entry areas will be established
- Within the refuge, 12 prohibited actions have been identified
Due to some concern over human safety, the following modifications were made to the proposed rule:
- High-speed watercrafts are still allowed during daylight hours in a portion of King’s Bay, from June 1 to Aug. 15
- The prohibition on the use of mooring and floatlines that pose an entanglement risk to manatees was removed
While we are concerned about the potential for these modifications to have detrimental effects on manatees in King’s Bay, WSPA is extremely pleased with the improved protection measures outlined in the final rule. FWS has taken steps in the right direction to safeguard the hundreds of “endangered” and “depleted” manatees actively using the waters of King’s Bay.
Photo by Jim Reid, U.S. FWS Southeast Region, courtesy of WSPA