May 16, 2011
By Karl Wickstrom
New evidence is overwhelming, we suggest, that the emotionally driven imposition of hundreds of square miles of no-wake zones has done little or nothing to save manatees, which are prospering as never before.
We'd say it's time for a calm, professional look at many of the zones in view of the latest findings.
Many of the putt-putt stretches which severely inconvenienced countless traditional boat trips ought to be switched to 25 mph areas.
Moreover, onerous restrictions against dock building in the deceitful name of manatee protection should be eased for public benefit.
As you may painfully recall, it was a decade ago that state and federal bureaucratssecretly settled a lawsuit by manatee extremists by agreeing to implement idle zones, leading to years of manatee wars angering tens of thousands of boaters.
Many of the proposed zones were defeated but the slowpoking often won out as many folks bought into the idea that creeping would be safer for the sea cows. Indeed, it seemed intuitively valid.
Now, the science indicates otherwise.
This year's new eyeball count of manatees hit a record high of 5,067 as the animals packed together for tabulating at warm-water discharges.
That's 67 percent higher than in 2001. And it's almost precisely four times the viewed count in 1991.
So, did the idle zones cause the increased population? Apparently not, because the mortality attributed to boats was the same percentage this year as in 2001, before the no-wake frenzy.
Much of this was explored by the Coastal Conservation Association and others. Dr. Tom Fraser, former chair of the state's Marine Fisheries Commission, compiled a chart showing that the manatee population had tripled over 25 years.
Now, in 2010, Dr. Fraser extends the previous trendline and lo and behold, it reaches directly up to the new 5,000 mark.
Although cautious, Dr. Fraser says the new results “may suggest that the existing regulations that have been in place have not had a measurable effect on the growth rate. I assume the FWC (state commission) is trying to determine the response of manatee mortality rates to the overall speed regulations for boats.”
The boating industry, already hurting because of economic problems, shouldn't be saddled any longer with ill-advised and ineffective no-wake zones in many areas.