Caution Urged in Manatee Zones Despite Court Decision

A Circuit Court ruling, striking down five manatee zones in Lee County, does not alter the fact that manatees are congregated and vulnerable to speeding boats in those waters.

January 30th 2004

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — A Circuit Court ruling, striking down five manatee zones in Lee County, does not alter the fact that manatees are congregated and vulnerable to speeding boats in those waters. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is urging boaters to comply voluntarily with posted speed zones while the case progresses through the appeals court.

The affected areas include waters outside the marked channels in Estero Bay, Matlacha Pass, near the York and Galt islands at the south end of Pine Island, the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River and an area near Shell Creek and Punta Rassa. The ruling does not effect speed restrictions in the channels within these areas. All other state manatee zones and federal zones remain in effect. In addition, FWC officers will continue enforcing boating safety laws in all areas.

Meanwhile, FWC attorneys plan to file documents, asking the Second District Court of Appeal to review the Circuit Court decision and will also seek to reinstate the affected zones while the case is pending. In this case, the FWC petition to the DCA involves a procedure called certiorari — meaning the agency is asking the court to use its discretion to review the lower court’s ruling. Certiorari is different from other appeals in that the lower court’s ruling is not automatically stayed.

The Circuit Court ruling stems from technical issues involving filing legal documents. “The court never ruled on the merits of the case,” said FWC general counsel, Jim Antista. “We believe these manatee zones are based on sound science and are necessary for the protection of manatees.”

If the DCA grants the FWC’s request for a stay of the Circuit Court ruling, the manatee zones involved in the case will go back into effect immediately.

“During the winter there are many manatees that migrate to Lee County, said biologist Kipp Frohlich. “Boaters should abide by the posted zones if they don’t want to hit a manatee.”