FWC approves changes to Collier County manatee zones

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its April meeting approved a rule implementing changes to Collier County manatee protection zones that balances manatee protection with the needs of boaters.

The revised manatee zones will add protections to some Collier County waterways where FWC’s data indicates the risk of manatee and boat interactions is higher, but they also will reduce regulations in other waterways where data indicates the risk to manatees is low.

The Florida Manatee Management Plan calls for periodic review of manatee protection zones and, for over a year, the FWC has worked with Collier County, the city of Naples, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to determine whether revisions were needed to state manatee zones last amended in 1997.

Earlier this year, a Jan. 31 public hearing was held to receive input on the proposed revisions to the Collier County manatee zones. The FWC also held two public workshops in 2016, and a Local Rule Review Committee met seven times and made recommendations, most of which are incorporated in the new rule.

The rule revising Collier County’s manatee zones takes into account recent data on manatee distribution and habitat, as well as boat use in area waters and incidents between boats and manatees. The changes will affect less than 4 percent of the county’s 51,459 acres of inshore waterways. While there will be an increase in regulation to three areas near Rookery Bay, a number of the changes will result in the removal or reduction of regulated waterways where the data review indicated low risk to manatees.

“We are committed to continuing strong conservation measures for manatees,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s section leader for Imperiled Species Management. “These revisions to the Collier County rule are mostly tweaks that add protection or adjust protection levels consistent with review of newer data.”

Information on the existing Collier County manatee zones is available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can click on “Data and Maps” and then on “Collier County” for zone descriptions or maps. The zones help reduce the risk of injuries to manatees from boats by requiring appropriate zone speeds in areas regularly used by manatees.

For more information on Collier County manatee protection zone rule, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee and click on “Rulemaking.”

On April 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published in the Federal Register that the manatee’s listing status has been changed from endangered to threatened. The USFWS noted increases in manatee populations and improvement in manatee habitat contributed to this decision.

Floridians can help conserve Florida manatees by purchasing a “Save the Manatee” license plate at BuyaPlate.com.