A Florida appeals court has upheld state rules protecting endangered manatees from high-speed boats.
The 5th District Court of Appeals upheld a legal ruling supporting regulations proposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that will require boats to slow down in Brevard County. Record numbers of manatees live in Brevard, and record numbers have been killed there by boats.
"The judges affirmed that that reasonable speed limits on boats are the best way to reduce the appalling death toll among manatees," said David Guest, an attorney with the Earthjustice law firm, which represented the Save the Manatee Club and Florida Wildlife Federation. The groups intervened in an administrative challenge to the rules brought by boating rights groups.
Boaters and boat manufacturers had complained that tougher speed limits are unnecessary because manatees are not frequently found in Brevard County.
Large numbers of manatees have been spotted in Brevard County by aerial surveys conducted by state marine researchers, including a record 790 in 1999. Since 1976, at least 191 manatees are believed to have been killed by boats in Brevard, more than in any other Florida county, according to the commission.
This week's decision upholds an April 2002 ruling by Judge Fred Buckine. A three judge panel from the appellate court ruled unanimously to uphold Buckine's ruling after having been briefed on the issues and hearing oral argument last week.
The rules, first proposed in April 2001, are part of a comprehensive package of stronger protections for manatees throughout Florida that are required under a federal settlement with Earthjustice. Under the Brevard rule, areas in Brevard where boaters can now travel at either unlimited speeds, 35 mph, or 25 mph would be more tightly regulated, most becoming slow-speed zones. The areas affected include the Barge Canal connecting the Indian and Banana rivers.
This state court victory follows an order issued Tuesday by a federal judge approving an agreement between environmental organizations and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which would require that agency to establish federal protections for manatees.