September 13, 2002

CONTACT: Henry Cabbage (850) 488-8843

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved 10 new manatee protection zones Thursday in a day-long special session ( agenda <http://floridaconservation.org/commission/2002/sept/sept12.htm>).

The FWC met at the Osceola County Administration Building in Kissimmee to consider staff recommendations concerning manatee protection measures for Charlotte, Citrus, Hillsborough, Indian River, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Commissioners heard more than 100 hours of formal public input in workshops, stakeholders' meetings and public hearings before taking final action.

"The FWC has listened carefully to all parties throughout this process," Chairman John D. Rood said. "We have made great efforts to minimize impact on traditional boating activities while providing much-improved protection for manatees."

Commissioners scheduled the special meeting for central Florida rather than take up the matter at its regular meeting last week in Pensacola to ensure people who live in affected counties would have adequate opportunity to share their opinions and information with the agency.

New manatee zone regulations in Charlotte and DeSoto counties include slow-speed zones for boaters in the Lemon Bay area from the Sarasota County line to Boca Grande Causeway, with the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and the marked channel through Stump Pass allowing boats to travel 25 mph. Also, the FWC will establish two idle speed zones in Turtle Bay, with the rest of the bay having a 25-mph speed limit. For Lemon Bay, Commissioners approved a 25-mph corridor from the mainland to Little Gasparilla Island and another 25-mph zone adjacent to Boca Grande Causeway. In the Peace River, the FWC will establish a combination of slow speed shoreline buffers, shore-to-shore slow speed zones (some with 25 mph channels) and shore-to-shore 25-mph zones east of U.S. 41 and south of S.R. 761 in DeSoto County.

After hearing several hours of public comment, Commissioners agreed to incorporate key elements of the manatee plan produced by Charlotte County officials and input from the Coastal Conservation Association. The revisions resulted in an additional 25-mph zone north of Long Island and east of Bird Key in addition to another 25-mph zone in part of Hunter Creek, both in the Peace River.

In an area of Sarasota County, the eastern boundary of the existing slow speed zone in the vicinity of City Island will move westward to a line between the northwestern end of Bird Key and the eastern end of City Island. In addition, the currently unregulated area northeast of Pansy Bayou will become a slow-speed zone. A winter season (Nov. 15 - March 15) no-entry zone will go into effect in a section of Salt Creek/Warm Mineral Springs north of U.S. 41, while the existing slow speed zone north of the weir to the Warm Mineral Springs will no longer apply. Commissioners granted a variance for the Ski-A-Rees water skiing team.

In Manatee County, the FWC will establish slow speed shoreline buffer zones throughout most of Terra Ceia Bay and Terra Ceia Bayou, with the waters outside of the buffer in the western part of the bay having a 25 mph speed limit. Shore-to-shore slow speed regulations will apply in Peterson Bayou and the portions of Terra Ceia Bay south of Terra Ceia Bayou and north of Snead Cut to the vicinity of the freshwater outfall. Snead Cut will become an idle speed zone.

The existing winter season (Nov. 15 - March 31) zone in Hillsborough County's shipping channel leading to the Alafia River in Hillsborough Bay will no longer apply, and the existing winter season idle speed zone in the Alafia River west of U.S. 41 will become a year-round slow speed zone except in the marked channel that allows boats to travel 25 mph. A 25-mph zone will take effect on the Alafia River between U.S. 41 and I-75.

In Citrus County, two seasonal (Nov. 15 - March 31) no entry zones will take effect in the Blue Waters area of the Homosassa River. However, the FWC will allow public access to part of the Blue Waters area, even when the zones are in effect. The entire area will remain accessible during warmer months.

In Indian River County, the existing seasonal (Nov. 1 - April 30) zone (30 mph in the Atlantic ICW channel and slow speed outside the ICW) in Jungle Trail Narrows will be replaced by a year-round slow-speed zone that will allow speeds up to 30 mph in the ICW channel the entire length of Jungle Trail Narrows. A seasonal (Nov. 15 - March 31) no-entry zone will be added to the canal system north of the Vero Beach Municipal Power Plant. Motorboat access to private residence, boat houses and docks in the no-entry zone by residents and authorized guests will be allowed at idle speed under permits.

The FWC chairman said the Commission worked diligently to ensure the new regulations strike a balance between the rights of boaters and property owners and sound management practices for protecting manatees.

"We are committed to the principle that responsible manatee protection should also constitute good public policy," he said. "We believe we have developed a plan which will have wide support in the affected area and throughout the state. I am grateful to the hundreds of people who took the time to offer their comments and help with the process."

The new manatee protection zones will take effect as soon as signs can be posted.
Franchesta L. Wilson
Office of Informational Services
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission [email protected]
(850) 488-8984

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