Every county in Florida is impacted by the need for manatee zones when it comes to the regulation of boats.
All saltwater habitats are monitored and have been the subject of regulatory scrutiny for decades. Speed zones are installed at the behest of conservation groups ranging from Jacksonville to the Florida Keys, and on up the west coast to Pensacola.
Freshwater environments that are connected to saltwater via rivers, creeks and inlets are no different. Vast and comprehensive speed zones have been placed that have curtailed the traditional use of said waterways in many areas.
I content that no one really knows if these areas work or not. Zone upon zone has been installed, yet there is no way to see if they are working.
Some people say that they work because boats are going slower. However, boaters know that when they’re going slower, they are settled deeper in the water – meaning that their propellers are two to three feet farther below the surface.
Does this exacerbate interactions with boats and manatees? It would seem that this is a question that any manatee advocate would want to know the answer to. Unfortunately this question seems to have gone unanswered.
Manatees have been venturing into new areas over the decades, and many claim that this is a good thing. But one has to ask why they are able to expand their range; I argue that it is because of thermal pollution.
Thermal pollution is the introduction of artificially warm water being dumped into a natural waterway. This happens with power plants, sewerage outfalls, water treatment plants and highway and street storm drains. A little known (or little adhered-to) fact is that thermal outflows were declared pollution by the Clean Water Act of 1974.
Thermal pollution impacts more than manatees however, it can impact our fish nurseries, mollusks, flats fish, seagrasses and every animal that calls an estuary home. Once illegal, it is now the lynch-pin of the single-species management plan that is pursued by state and federal regulators, and the paid advocate contingent of the West Indian Manatee.
What is this doing to our estuaries – as more and more giant herbivores are crammed into these headwaters, bays and inlets? Good question, boaters have been asking about this since the 70’s.
Regulators and the advocate contingent have scoffed at the question for many years. I believe that the answer would be contrary to their mission and their income stream.
With the semiannual manatee forum coming up, we can hopefully begin to get some honest answers to a very real problem. The current and ongoing one way management plan is not good for the manatees, or our environment.