Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

This is really upsetting, especially to someone who used to study manatees: Florida has been toying with the idea of down-grading manatees’ “endangered” status and relaxing the amount of protection they receive. Protective laws include (and consist mostly of) laws which force boaters to slow down in areas where manatees live and breed. Given that the number one killer of manatees (perhaps really the *only* one) is collisions with boat propellers, these laws have been largely responsible for the up-swing in their numbers over the past 20 years. However, now that the laws have proven successful, its time to get rid of them, right? Well, that seems to be the backwards way that Florida is looking at it, and it pisses me off.

Thing is, tourists and residents don’t like the laws. They go to Florida to boat, and to boat as fast as they please, where-ever they please. Avid boaters have been extremely vocal opponents to laws restricting boat speed. When I volunteered at Mote Marine Observatory, there was palpable tension during boat races, when they expected that many manatees would be hurt or killed. Manatees are slow-moving creatures who need to surface for air–they don’t stand a chance against high-speed boats ripping through their habitats. Do Florida legislators think that because there are *more* manatees they’ve suddenly become better at getting out of the way??

Thing is, “more” is really relative. We’re still talking about a population of manatees less that 3,000 individuals. Total, for the whole state. Now this number may look rosy in comparison to a count taken in 1991 which found about 1200, but still, 3000 really isn’t very many. Especially compared to the tens of thousands which are hypothesized to live in Florida a hundred years or so ago. Manatees are large mammals which breed slowly, have a long gestation, and devote a lot of time to one calf at a time. These facts contribute to the problem of manatee numbers: its not a short-term problem. The report which suggests that manatees don’t fit the qualifications for endangered status has been sent to the White House from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Florida, and is still subject to change. However, with the Bush admin’s stellar track record on environmental issues, I’m not holding my breath. Sadly, the manatees better learn to do just that.

UPDATE: After reading the report mentioned above, it came to my attention that the group that requested that the report be drawn up was the confusingly-named Coastal Conservation Association. The CCA is not a conservation group, but an organization of boaters and fishers which throws its clout in legislative spheres and legal battles. They retain a full-time lobbyist in Washington and 18 full-time local lobbyists. Their “action points” are an almalgom of preventing over-fishing (good!) while also attempting to eliminate places where fishermen can’t go (they list as an “accomplishment”: Worked with the Biscayne National Park Fishery Working Group to curtail and modify proposed no-entry and no-fishing zones, in Florida).



  1. #1 Warren
    April 9, 2007

    You know, between crotch rockets and drunken weekend boating nitwits, my feeling is that 90% or more of all “recreational watercraft users” could be launched into the sun tomorrow without the rest of the planet being even remotely adversely affected. It’s en experiment I would certainly like to see attempted.

    The entire ecological status of Florida is disintegrating rapidly. It’s enough to make one loathe both the elderly and anthropomorphic rats, though in honesty these are unfair assessments.

  2. #2 Joseph j7uy5
    April 9, 2007

    People who like to go fast and make noise should all go to Texas and spend their vacations “clearing brush” with a chainsaw and shooting their friends in the face with a shotgun. That kind of thing. Maybe ride in a jet and land on an aircraft carrier every once in a a while.

    Mission accomplished.

  3. #3 jt
    April 9, 2007

    Enough with the killjoys– going fast is fun. Whether you’re rollerblading, skiing, boating, or whatever, it’s definitely part of the experience.

    (If you’ve got a beef with recreational boating being wasteful, that’s another story)

    Killing/Maiming/decimating things to go fast is not. It’s really that simple.

  4. #4 J-Dog
    April 9, 2007

    We need to arm the Manatees NOW!

  5. #5 mutinyco
    April 10, 2007

    Maybe try to involve Conan O’Brien in the crusade:

  6. #6 Rugosa
    April 10, 2007

    Sorry, jt, going fast is the problem. Now if boaters were asking for set-aside areas where they can zip around to their hearts’ content, I might feel differently. But everything I’ve read/heard from the “recreation” community – whether boaters in Florida or snowmobilers in national parks – is that they’re not happy unless they have unlimited access, damn the wildlife.

  7. #7 Shelley
    April 10, 2007

    Boaters in Florida really do have the entire waterway at their disposal—they can even go through manatee areas, all they are asked to do is slow down while in those areas! Nothing wrong with going fast and being safe (and not crashing into living things in the process). Problem occurs when well-funded lobbys try to downplay the situation of the manatee just so they can race boats in their habitat.

    I mean, at the very least, aren’t they worried the manatee might damage their oh-so-precious boat propellor while slicing through its back?

  8. #8 Spirula
    April 10, 2007


    Check this out

    Notice that they provide even better handling and thrust.
    They should insist that only boats outfitted with these could be allowed in manatee waters.

    Of course, the Floriduh legislators are trying to do it the easy and voter friendly way, a.k.a screw the planet. And I thought North Cacawacky legislators were idiots. I move here and it seems they’re even worse.

  9. #9 Shelley
    April 10, 2007

    Ugh, see, that would actually make sense. But thing is, it would require boaters to *gasp* make a modification to their boat (ie, pay money) to save wildlife. Certainly not the attitude they seem to be angling for. More of an “from my cold dead fingers” kind of mentality.

  10. #10 Brian
    April 10, 2007

    Maybe our best bet is to give the Manatees a little ammunition? I mean, if boaters want to go faster, the least we can do is level the playing field and give the Manatees a few rockets or machine guns. That way, we wouldn’t need laws to keep people away from them!

  11. #11 eewolf
    April 10, 2007

    i returned to florida a few years ago and it saddens me to see this kind of thinking. i lived in idaho for 12 years and the same attitude prevailed. bears are recovering in some habitat, so we can start shooting them again. wolf restoration? sure, but only if we can shoot them if they bother us.

    the problem is in the thinking that we only need to care for wildlife that is endangered. that is backwards. in other words, it is not ok to kill manatees with your boats, even if there are many of them.

    love your site and your writing, shelley.

  12. #12 Laura
    April 10, 2007

    As a native Floridian I find this very upsetting. I’ve been boating in the beautiful intracoastal waterways of Florida and seen manatees up close in their native habitat. It’s really amazing, but I guess some people can’t stand to go slow enough to take in these natural wonders.

  13. #13 KevinC
    April 11, 2007

    Hope this gets stopped. I suspect that Interior will also be trying to downgrade Pierson’s milkvetch (federal before next Winter’s off road vehicle (ORV) season at the Algadones dunes (Southeast CA near AZ). On holiday weekends during the winter up to 200,000 people show up to race around and tear up the sand dunes which is a very delicate ecosystem. A small area has been set aside, less then 10%, to attempt and save the endemic Pierson’s milkvetch. The ORV speed freaks hate that there is an area they can’t drive because of some ‘stupid plant’ and are always pressuring BLM to reopen that area.

    Last year I went on a 1 night backpack trip across the closed area of the dunes my schools science club. The difference between what the area closed to ORV area and the rest of the dunes is dramatic. There are so many more plants and other life in the closed area while the rest is so becoming sterile. We are planing to do a overnight hike this year on the night of a full moon, we really should get a chance to see more animals. Plus, we might be the last to see it before it torn up.


  14. #14 KevinC
    April 11, 2007

    That should be,

    …milkvetch (federal threatened and CA endangered species) before…


  15. #15 Captain Mike
    December 23, 2009

    I agree with most said here but to hypothetically say that there were tens of thousands of manatees in Florida,100 years ago is pure speculation or guessing. In fact I have talked to some old timers in the Crystal River/Homosassa, Florida area and they and there fathers and granfathers rarely saw manatees back to the early 1900’s.

  16. #16 Molly
    April 28, 2010

    Hi, I just love manatees! I adopted my very own manatee from the Save the Manatee program. Georgia is my manatee. I love your information. Its very helpful a report I need to be done! 🙂

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