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Bill To Reconsider Manatee Speed Zones Moves Forward

Matthew Bednarik via Flickr

While wildlife officials discuss downgrading manatees from endangered to protected, one lawmaker says he’d like to look into removing special “no wake” zones that were put in place to protect the animals.

Florida’s manatee populations has grown from little more than a thousand in 1991 to more than 6,000 in 2015. And U.S. wildlife officials say that’s a sign it could be time to remove Florida’s sea cows from the endangered species list.

“Last month the U.S. fish and wildlife service proposed that the West Indian Manatee be down-listed from endangered to threatened status under the endangered species act due to a reduction in direct threats from to the animal and its habitat,” Ahern says.

That’s Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole). He’s behind a bill that would launch an independent count of the manatees and would commission a study of the impact of removing special manatee no wake zones. Typically the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducts population counts. But officials say manatees are counted as scientists see them, sometimes during flyovers. And the FWC admits the number of manatees is likely higher than the count, since officials can only include the animals they see. Ahern is hoping for what he calls a more “scientific” process and wants an update by 2019. He says sometimes the state agency’s counts can take too long.

“It takes a couple of years for them typically to get that together. This will be a third party here is the reasoning, so it’s a little more independent kind of a count that way,” Ahern says.

Ahern says if manatees are no longer endangered it makes sense no wake zones should become scarce. But he says officials are creating more speed zones in his area. And he questions the role boats play in manatee deaths.

“ There’s only about 50, to 70, maybe upwards up 80 manatees killed by boat strikes every year versus about 400 which are due to red tide or other natural causes,” Ahern says.

Meanwhile citizens like, John Pfanstiehl say they want to make the most of Florida waters without so many limitations. 

“It’s wonderful looking out over the cove and seeing kids water skiing and tubing and they’re doing it under the watchful eye of their parents. They’re not inside getting high or playing video games, they’re out enjoying physical activity in the Florida waters. FWC says water sports have to stop in our cove even though there’s no manatees there. There’s not even any see grass there because it’s a deep cove,” Pfanstiehl says.

Pfanstiehl says officials have created no wake speed zones in his cove despite scientists spotting manatees in the area just once. Ahern’s measure passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee Tuesday. A similar bill in the Senate is awaiting its first hearing.