There is a good reason for the Manatee River’s name – manatees live there.
So do sea turtles – one laid a nest at DeSoto National Park recently. So do dolphins, and other animals that don’t get all the press focused on endangered and threatened marine mammals and turtles.
Running a 125-mile-an-hour powerboat race through a natural habitat, an idea initiated by county tourism officials and preliminarily approved by the Bradenton City Council, is the worst idea ever, and prompts many questions.
How do county tourism promoters reconcile touting the area as an eco-friendly destination, with Snooty at the museum and manatee-spotting kayak rentals and dolphin-spotting sunset boat tours, at the same time that they’re planning an event that will unquestionably disrupt, and possibly injure or kill, endangered manatees and other wildlife in the Manatee River?
Will they suspend the manatee zone laws in the river for the race? Both banks of the river are slow speed zones. How can we expect recreational boaters to abide by the manatee laws when the laws are ignored for a claimed $8-10 million economic boost?
Manatees cannot outswim a boat going 125 miles an hour, or even 25 miles an hour. If observers are stationed to watch for them, will they have the authority to call the race off if they spot a manatee? How long would it take them to get the message to the boats? How long would it take for the boats to come to a stop from full speed?
Only 4,831 manatees were spotted from the air in the waters of Florida during the most recent aerial survey this year. In Florida, 829 manatees died in 2013, more than in any of the past 40 years, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Of those, 72 were from boat strikes. In Manatee County, three died from boat strikes.
None of the boats were going 125 miles an hour.
Bradenton City Councilman Gene Gallo has said the manatees are at the Tampa Electric power plant warm water outflow in Apollo Beach in January, when the race is planned.
That’s not necessarily so, according to Save the Manatee Club’s director of science and conservation, Katie Tripp, who says that if January turns out to be warm, which often happens, manatees will still be in the river.
Aerial surveys of the Manatee River show manatees in the river in January and February, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) maps. The agency can issue a permit for a boat race on certain conditions, if the county’s ordinances allow it and “upon a showing of justification of need by the applicant and a finding by FWC that issuance is not likely to create a serious threat to manatees,” according to FWC rules. Conditions can be placed on the permits, including aerial and water surveying of the race area before and during the race to ensure that no manatees are present, use of manatee observers at strategic points to look for manatees during all race-related activities and limitations on the number of vessels.
Permits must also be acquired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies, but that may not pose much of a problem, she said, adding that the club unsuccessfully opposed a similar race in Stuart.
“It’s clearly an important manatee area,” she says. “There’s no good reason to do this inshore.”
So many questions should be asked and answered by local officials before considering approval of this proposal.
Why not run the race offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, where manatees are less likely to be?
Why not be consistent with the county’s ecotourism message and plan a kayak race in the Manatee River?
Why not apply common sense to a tourism promotion planned for an already overcrowded time of year that could kill manatees that are advertised to attract tourists?