November 14, 2011 -
As "manatee season" approaches in Kings Bay, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to update the public on the status of the proposed Kings Bay manatee refuge rule.
During the public comment period on the rule, the Service received 413 written and 42 oral comments, as well as thousands of additional form letters and e-mails. In general, there is great support for the expanded sanctuaries and the rules preventing manatee harassment, while the proposed year round slow speed zone is the area of greatest debate.
The Service carefully considers all public comments and addresses them as appropriate in the final rulemaking. In our prior rulemakings, the Service made adjustments in the final rules based on these comments, as well as updated data on manatee use.
“Based on the number and variety of the comments received, as well as the debates spurred by the proposed rule, we are making an extra effort to consider and address all the comments received” said Dave Hankla, supervisor of the Service’s North Florida Field Office.
Service officials had targeted mid-November for completion of the Kings Bay rule but had acknowledged doing so might be a challenge.
“While having the final rule in place for the winter season was always our goal, we think having a comprehensive rule that adequately addresses comments and concerns raised during the comment period is worth the extra time,” Hankla said, adding “we expect to complete the final rule in December.”
In the meantime, Service officials are asking dive shops, tour operators, and the manatee viewing public as a whole to take great care not to harass manatees using Kings Bay as the weather becomes increasingly cooler.
“We ask everyone to be especially attentive around the manatee sanctuaries and, beginning November 15, voluntarily comply with the rules regarding prohibited acts that were in place during last year’s winter season,” Hankla said.
Those prohibited acts include the following:
1. Chasing or pursuing manatee(s).
2. Disturbing or touching resting or feeding manatee(s).
3. Diving from the surface on to resting or feeding manatee(s).
4. Cornering or surrounding or attempting to corner or surround manatee(s).
5. Riding, holding, grabbing, or pinching or attempting to ride, hold, grab, or pinch manatee(s).
6. Poking, prodding, or stabbing, or attempting to poke, prod, or stab manatee(s) with anything, including hands and feet.
7. Standing on or attempting to stand on manatee(s).
8. Separating a mother and calf or attempting to separate a mother and calf.
9. Separating manatee(s) from a group or attempting to separate manatee(s) from a group.
10. Giving manatee(s) anything to eat or drink or attempting to give manatee(s) anything to eat or drink.
11. Actively initiating contact with belted and/or tagged manatee(s) and associated gear, including any belts, harnesses, tracking devices, and antennae.