Figure. State of Florida Officer enforcing
manatee protection zone.
Manatee protection zones are areas in which the operation of vessels is subject to regulation beyond the usual rules of navigation. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission establishes regulatory zones in areas that manatees inhabit on a regular basis and where manatee sightings are frequent. Such zones include: “Idle Speed,” “Slow Speed,” “Motorboat Prohibited,” “No Entry,” “Maximum 25 MPH Zone,” “Maximum 30 MPH Speed,” and “Maximum 35 MPH Speed.” The statutory requirement governing where zones may be established is “where manatees are frequently sighted and the best available scientific information, as well as other available, relevant, and reliable information, which may include but is not limited to, manatee surveys, observations, available studies of food sources, and water depths, supports the conclusion that manatees inhabit such waters periodically [or on a regular basis]” (68C-22, FAC, State of Florida, 2007).
These zones may coincide with federal and local manatee protection measures. The intent is to prevent or reduce the number of collisions with manatees or at least to minimize injury to the animals if a collision occurs. Factors considered in the design of manatee protection zones include water depth, presence of manatee forage (especially seagrass), seasonal counts of manatee populations, boat traffic characteristics, and other resources that may also need protection. Zones are marked by signs visible to boaters, usually in the form of buoys or of panels on pilings. The restrictions in some zones are seasonal; the appropriate regulations are indicated to boaters by varying sign messages. Municipal, county, state, and federal law enforcement officers enforce the posted restrictions.