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Apollo Beach

More signs going up to protect manatees

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

Manatees swimming along the eastern shoreline of Tampa Bay are about to become a little bit safer.

In the next 10 days, Hillsborough County will begin installing signposts every quarter-mile along the coast to warn boaters to slow down and watch for manatees.

And this summer, Terrabrook, the developer of Mirabay, will replace sinking buoys intended to designate a manatee protection area at the edge of the 750-acre waterfront community under construction in Apollo Beach.

Terrabrook installed the buoys in October 2000. But two years later, barnacles and shellfish have weighed down the buoys, causing them to sink in the water to a level that covers the warnings.

Terrabrook will replace the buoys with signs attached to wooden posts.

Chuck Coleman, coordinator of marine safety for Hillsborough County, discovered the sinking buoys during a routine inspection last June.

"I found that one-third to one-half had been sinking. Therefore you couldn't read the words or see the symbols which said manatee slow speed zone," he said. At the request of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Hillsborough County in August 2000 required Terrabrook to create a manatee protection area from Apollo Beach south to E.G. Simmons Park and maintain it for 20 years.

In December 2001, Hillsborough County commissioners voted to also install markers north to the mouth of the Alafia River in Gibsonton and south to the mouth of the Little Manatee River in Bahia Beach.

The $37,900 project, which Coleman said should be completed by the end of May, is being paid for with a Gardinier Settlement Trust Fund Grant managed by the Environmental Protection Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Together, the Hillsborough County and Terrabrook manatee protection areas cover 11 miles of shoreline.

Terrabrook opted for the buoy marker system, which boaters prefer because they're less damaging to boats if struck, Coleman said.

The county chose the posts because they cost less to maintain than buoys, which need a special coating and repeated cleanings to keep them from sinking.

Terrabrook's new markers will be the same style as those used by Hillsborough County.

"They won't sink but they'll hurt if you run into them," Coleman said.

More than 350 manatees winter in the water around the Big Bend power plant, just 2 miles north of Mirabay, said Suzanne Tarr of the Save the Manatee Club. It's important, she said, that boaters see the signs and she's glad that Terrabrook is installing new markers.

"They saw there was a problem," Tarr said. "They're taking care of it."

-- Janet Zink can be reached at 661-2441 or jzink@sptimes.com .

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