Manatees will be protected from high-speed boats under an order issued Tuesday by a Tallahassee judge. Judge Fred Buckine upheld rules proposed by a state agency that will require boats to slow down in Brevard County. Record numbers of the endangered mammals live in Brevard, and boats have killed record numbers there.
“The judge agreed that reasonable speed limits on boats are the best way to reduce the appalling death toll among manatees,” said David Guest, an attorney with Earthjustice, the law firm that represented Save the Manatee Club in a court challenge to the rules.
Boaters and boating interests had complained that tougher speed limits, proposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are unnecessary because manatees are not frequently found in Brevard. They also contended that manatees couldn’t hear slow-moving boats.
First proposed in April 2001, the rules are the first step in a comprehensive package of stronger protections for manatees throughout Florida that are required under a federal settlement with Earthjustice. Under the Brevard proposals, areas in Brevard where boaters can now travel at unlimited speeds, 35 mph or 25 mph would be more tightly regulated, mostly becoming slow-speed zones. The areas include the Barge Canal connecting the Indian and Banana rivers.
Large numbers of manatees have been spotted in Brevard County during aerial surveys conducted by state marine researchers, including a record 790 individuals 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.