Expansion of protections first step toward manatee recovery

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Kings Bay refuge will help meet cold-weather needs for marine mammals

Summary:

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the establishment of a manatee refuge in the waters of Florida’s Kings Bay that will expand protections for manatees at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.
  • The new rules designate most of Kings Bay as a slow-speed area, limit high-speed activities in a popular summer water sports area, provide temporary no-entry areas and allow for expansion of “manatee sanctuary” areas where waterborne activities would be prohibited on especially cold days to shelter manatees. The regulations also ban chasing or pursuing manatees, disturbing or touching them while they are feeding or resting, and separating a mother and a calf.
  • Despite the existing network of sanctuaries and other protections in Kings Bay, it remains a very dangerous waterway as manatees are hit by fast-moving boats and harassed by tourists wanting to interact with them. The expanded manatee sanctuary provision provides flexibility for wildlife managers to help the animals take shelter from increasingly cold winters and protect them from inquisitive people who can cause them harm.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 15, 2012) - The following is a statement from Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife:
 
“Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the most important wintering site for manatees in northwest Florida and one of the best places to see manatees in the entire state. By adopting these new rules, the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken a first step towards helping the refuge better serve its purpose—to safeguard this vulnerable marine mammal. However, without the removal of the dangerous high-speed water sports zone, manatees and people will continue to be at risk in Kings Bay.”
 
Background:
  • The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983, and is the only refuge created for the purpose of protecting manatees.
  •  The leading human-caused threat to Florida manatees is collisions with watercraft. Propellers and boat hulls inflict serious or mortal wounds, and most manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails after surviving collisions with boats.  
  • Manatee deaths reached a record high in 2010 when a total of 766 manatees died in Florida, followed by the death of over 450 animals in 2011. Nearly 400 of these died from exposure during an extended period of cold weather.
  • The greatest long-term threat involves the loss of warm-water habitat that manatees need to survive. Due to its naturally occurring warm water springs, Kings Bay, Fla. has been increasingly popular among wintering manatees. Having flexibility for managers to increase the area and duration of warm-water sanctuary areas will help ensure that manatees in Kings Bay will survive cold winters.
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Contact(s): Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members, supporters and subscribers, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  www.defenders.org  

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