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  • Summit's charge: Protect state's manatees
  • McCollum backs Logan's quest to join debate
  • Democrats won't pull disputed ad
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    Summit's charge: Protect state's manatees

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- The image on the screen made the audience wince: It was a close-up of a dead manatee's hide, cut deeply, a dozen times, like a hard-boiled egg put through a slicer.

    "We have seen manatees that have been hit (by boat propellers) up to 50 times," Buddy Powell, a researcher from St. Petersburg's Florida Marine Research Institute, told the crowd of about 100 onlookers Thursday at Gov. Jeb Bush's daylong Manatee Summit in Tallahassee.

    The summit's goal: to stop the rising death toll for the manatee, Florida's most famous -- and beloved -- endangered species.

    One idea: a $10-per-boat user fee to pay for more state Marine Patrol officers to catch boaters who speed or venture into shallow areas where manatees feed.

    Bush, who gave brief remarks to the group, had another name for the user fee. "It smells like a tax," he said, adding that he would prefer to use existing state money to beef up state water patrols.

    Florida first made it a crime to kill manatees back in 1893. By 1973, the creatures were on the endangered species list. Today, "more manatees are dying than ever before," Powell told the audience. Scientists estimate that only about 2,200 to 2,500 manatees remain in Florida waters.

    At Thursday's summit, scientists, environmentalists, regulators and representatives from the boating industry floated a long list of ideas to save manatees. Among them: manatee refuges that would be boat-free, higher fines for speeding boaters and state boating licenses. The group's final recommendations will be forwarded to Bush, the Cabinet and the Legislature. Tensions between boating interests and manatee protectors are high these days. At the beginning of the year, 19 environmental groups filed suit against state and federal agencies, accusing them of failing to do enough to save the manatees from extinction.

    The suit is pending, and some 800 federal permits for new boat slips across Florida are currently on hold, said Kirby Green, deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

    The languishing permits have the marine industry in turmoil. Ed Day of the Florida Marine Contractors Association issued a stinging statement, calling the unofficial permit moratorium a "9-month-old manatee war" that has "precipitated severe financial losses and heavy personnel layoffs."

    This summer, with the lawsuit pending, Bush abruptly announced he would no longer approve new marinas or boat slips unless counties have solid plans in place to protect manatees.

    Thirteen coastal counties were ordered to create manatee protection plans a decade ago, but so far only four -- Citrus, Collier, Duval and Miami-Dade -- have plans in place.

    The plans detail where docks, marinas, and boat ramps should go, and mandate slow-speed zones, boater education and more enforcement to catch speeders. The idea is to steer large numbers of boats away from waters where manatees congregate.

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    From the Times state desk