Save the Manatees Again

When are there enough manatees? That's the question being asked by boaters and environmental groups Monday after a state Senate committee passed legislation setting goals for the sea mammals’ recovery, but many believe the bill could lead to the manatees’ downfall.

Florida's manatee population has been relatively stable. There is pressure from boating interests to avoid new regulations. The answer they say is legislation by Senator Mike Bennett setting goals for manatee recovery.

"If we say the number of manatees should reach a certain level, and when they have reached that certain level I think we all in our lives want to know when we've won," says Sen. Mike Bennett, (R) Bradenton.

Dock builders told a Senate committee the bill was crucial.

Peggy Mathews of the Florida Marine Contractors Association says, "We have people that are going out of business every single day because U.S. Fish and Wildlife has determined that a dock is the taking of a manatee."

The Sierra Club says calling this bill a manatee protection act is more like giving a bad dog a good name.

"In fact the only way that this act relates to manatee protection is that it further erodes the protection that they have. This act is put forward to appease the boating industry and the small percentage of boaters who have a problem with speed zones," says John Swingle of the Sierra Club.

If the legislation becomes law, the Manatee Club predicts doom for the sea cow, and the Florida Wildlife Federation says the legislation isn't asking the right questions.

David Gluckman with the Florida Wildlife Federation says, "What do you do when you get above that goal? Are they open sport, can people go shoot manatees? The answers, no they aren't going to do that. So what are you going to do?"

The bill does call for genetic studies of manatees and protection for sea grasses, but its impact on the future of the species has more questions than solid answers.