November 20, 2002

CONTACT: Henry Cabbage (850) 488-4676

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) heard a
report Wednesday from manatee researchers concerning the animals' use of
the Caloosahatchee River.

Biologists from the FWC's Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI)
conducted the study, focusing on the area west of Edison Bridge to Shell
Point and on Mullock Creek in Lee County. They monitored manatee
movements, habitats, mortality and boating activity.

Researchers told Commissioners the area between Edison Bridge and the
mouth of the river near Shell Point is an important travel corridor for
manatees seeking warm-water refuges, feeding grounds and resting areas.
They said food is patchy in that area, so manatees move around
frequently, keeping close to shore.

The manatees are most congregated east of the Edison Bridge during the
cold season because of its warmer water, which is important to manatees
for survival in the winter. The study also revealed that manatees use
Matlacha Pass and San Carlos Bay for feeding and as a travel corridor.
The mouth of the river, San Carlos Bay, Redfish Point and Matlacha Pass
are the most dangerous areas for manatees in Lee County, according to
the study.

During the meeting, David Arnold, chief of protected species management,
recommended the Commission not initiate any changes to the current
manatee protection zones in the Caloosahatchee River or Mullock Creek.
Since studies have shown that there is a low level of boating speed
regulation compliance with the existing zones, managers felt it was not
clear that changes were necessary. Instead, increased education and
enforcement efforts are underway and will continue. Arnold said it would
be time- consuming to make changes for only a portion of the county,
since any new rule requires formation of a local government rule review

Because staff will report on the effectiveness of speed zones in
protecting manatees throughout Lee County next fall, it was staff's
position that decisions about changes in regulations in the area should
wait until then.

According to the report, violations of manatee speed zones by boaters in
stretches of the river pose serious threats to manatees. Boaters
complain, however, that the current proposed mixture of federal and
state boating speed zones would be too confusing and difficult to
enforce effectively to promote better compliance with boating speed

Stephen J. Boutelle, natural resources manager for Lee County
Environmental Services said the FWC should approach manatee regulations
holistically, rather than piece by piece, to avoid confusing boaters
with a complex system of regulations. He said boaters would be more
inclined to "buy into" regulations that make sense to them.

Commissioner Rodney Barreto said the Commission has worked hard to
strike a balance that would protect boaters' rights as well as protect
manatees. He said it would be more helpful if advocacy groups worked
more closely with the FWC to reach a consensus rather than maintaining a
constant adversarial stance in public.

Vance Hurd, president and CEO of Standing Watch, a boaters' rights
coalition, said he recognizes the task of working with a variety of
advocates is a difficult one.

"I wouldn't want to be in your seat," he said.

Hurd said his organization urges the FWC to incorporate a comprehensive
education program into manatee protection efforts to sharpen boater
compliance with existing regulations rather than hasten to adopt new

Ted Forsgren of the Coastal Conservation Association agreed, saying
volunteer compliance is essential.

"We think you'll see better compliance with reasonable regulations,"
Forsgren said. "We are supportive of what the FWC has done in the Peace
River, and we are pleased that the FWC is moving to get the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service to justify why they rejected the FWC plan."

Between 1976 and 2001, manatee deaths increased in the Caloosahatchee
River. Also, watercraft-related mortality, over the past 13 years, has
increased more rapidly in the river than elsewhere in southwest Florida
or in the state as a whole.

Representatives from the Save the Manatee Club, Standing Watch and the
Coastal Conservation Association agreed that it would be best to
postpone regulation changes for Lee County pending further analysis of
the study and additional public input.

This news release can be found at:

Franchesta L. Wilson
Office of Informational Services
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
[email protected]
(850) 488-8984

P.O. Box 296, Estero, FL 33928 E-mail Standing Watch Call Standing Watch
Toll Free 1-866-263-5015 or in office 239-425-2504 ext 293
Copyright © 2001 by Standing Watch. All rights reserved.