Collier manatee zones move one step closer to reality


Some manatee boating zones in Collier County are likely to change over the next six months or so after the state on Wednesday moved forward a manatee revision plan for Collier.

Collier is one of the original 13 counties identified as critical to keeping manatees from going extinct. The plan was implemented in 1983 and updated in 1997, but hasn't since been changed.

Islands change shape, so do boating channels. This updating process allows the state to review manatee zones in light of those changes.

"Manatees are doing very well," said Carol Knox, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions imperiled species division, during a meeting in St. Petersberg. "Their numbers are up and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking at moving them from endangered to threatened."

Manatees can doze off for 15 to 25 minutes at a time before lifting their big, solemn faces for a breath of air.

Collier County waters are relatively safe for manatees, there is an average of 3.6 watercraft-related deaths each year.

The manatee zones being considered are in Clam Bay, Wiggins Pass, Gordon Pass, Doctors Pass, Ten Thousands Islands and the Faka-Union Canal.

FWC will take more public input before holding a public hearing in Collier to make a final determination on the manatee zones — some of which would change idle speed to slow speed and slow speed to idle speed.

Feds say manatee no longer endangered

Areas like the Barron River, Marco Island River and the Goodland area could also be impacted.

Clam Bay was the most contested designation as residents of the high-scale Pelican Bay development said they want more protections in that area.

Robert Diffenderfer, representing the Foundation for Pelican Bay, said the Clam Bay area is a haven for manatees because of the quality seagrasses, their favorite food.

"You also see that you have the highest density of the north region of the county in the Clam Bay system, so we think your own data supports the proposition that yes manatees do use these zones and warrant protection," Diffenderfer said.

Mary Johnson, a board member of Pelican Bay Foundation, said the community simply wants to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of the bay and surrounding waters.

"The community of Pelican Bay feels especially responsible for conserving and managing habitat in Clam Bay," Johnson said.

Pelican Bay resident Linda Roth said she attended several public meetings on the proposed manatee zone changes and asked FWC commissioners to keep the area safe and ecologically intact.

Record 6,063 manatees counted in Florida

"Clam bay is the only natural coastal resource protection area designated by Collier County," Roth said. "(And we see) towing water skiers and waverunners have harmed sea grasses and other features in the bay."

Commissioner Liesa Priddy said the issue may be better suited for Collier County to resolve.

"I’m concerned that it’s more of a  public access and a boating safety issue than it is a manatee issue," Priddy said. "Trying to accommodate what their concerns are, there are options for them as far as requesting the county take some boating actions."

FWC chair Brian Yablonski agreed that the agency should carefully weigh all factors regarding boating restrictions.

"I want to watch the slippery slope with this and if the community has boating issues, using manatee protection to solve boating problems is not something the commission should be involved with," Yablonski said.

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