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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has sent out a reminder to boaters in King’s Bay — beginning today, the “sport zone” that had been a high-speed area from June 1 to Aug. 15 is once again a slow-speed area. The service staff will be updating the signs and buoys today, according to the release from the USFWS office in Jacksonville.
The release also noted that anchoring prohibitions in the sport zone during the summer season has been lifted.
The prohibitions were part of a larger set of contentious rules adopted March 15 by USFWS designating King’s Bay a year-round manatee protection refuge and reconfiguring the parameters of the sport zone.
The speed limit and the dates of summer waterborne activities in the sport zone were altered.
“The high speed went from 35 mph to 25 mph,” said Michael Lusk, manager of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Lusk said the summer was busy, but everything went without a hitch.
“Everything went well and very smoothly. We spent about $30,000 for extra enforcement, but ended up issuing mostly warnings to those who violated the new rules,” Lusk said.
He said between 200 and 300 contacts were made with visitors to the bay, during which the new rules were explained. Lusk said his office is currently compiling numbers of all contacts and tickets issued. He hopes to release those figures in the near future.
“We have not had one person complain about the new rules and no manatees or humans were hurt this summer,” Lusk added.
He said with regard to the new speed rules, there are no hard and fast rules about how quickly a boater is traveling because, depending on the size of the boat and engine, the actual speed necessary to steer the vessel may vary.
“For slow speed, make sure the boat is off-plane, and the watercraft is completely settled on the water. For idle speed, what we require is to operate at just enough for steerage,” he said.
According to USFWS, the following waterborne activities continue to be prohibited in King’s Bay’s manatee refuge area year-round:
*Chasing or pursuing manatee(s).
* Disturbing or touching resting or feeding manatee(s).
* Diving from the surface on to resting or feeding manatee(s).
* Cornering or surrounding or attempting to corner or surround manatee(s).
* Riding, holding, grabbing, or pinching or attempting to ride, hold, grab, or pinch manatee(s).
* Poking, prodding, or stabbing, or attempting to poke, prod, or stab manatee(s) with anything, including hands and feet.
* Standing on or attempting to stand on manatee(s).
* Separating a mother and calf or attempting to separate a mother and calf.
* Separating manatee(s) from a group or attempting to separate manatee(s) from a group.
* Giving manatee(s) anything to eat or drink or attempting to give manatee(s) anything to eat or drink.
* Actively initiating contact with belted and/or tagged manatee(s) and associated gear, including any belts, harnesses, tracking devices, and antennae.
*Interfering with rescue and research activities.
The new King’s Bay rules have been a point of controversy for some elected officials and residents who claim federal government overreach in the affairs of a local resource. They also claimed USFWS did very little consultative groundwork with the stakeholders before suddenly unveiling the proposal in the summer of 2011.
The service, however, said it opened the proposal to public input and eventually made adjustments to the final draft to address some of the concerns of the plan’s opponents while ensuring the protection of manatees.
For additional information on the King’s Bay Manatee Refuge regulations, go to http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/.
KNOW YOUR SPEED
The King’s Bay manatee refuge includes all its tributaries and adjoining water bodies, upstream of the confluence of King’s Bay and the Crystal River. The refuge is in place year-round.
“Slow” speed is defined as the speed at which the watercraft proceeds fully off plane and is completely settled in the water. Since watercraft of different sizes and configurations may travel at different speeds, a specific speed is not assigned. However, a watercraft is not proceeding at slow speed if it is: (1) on plane, (2) in the process of coming up on or coming off of plane, or (3) is creating an excessive wake. A watercraft is proceeding at slow speed if it is fully off plane and completely settled in the water, not plowing or creating an excessive wake.
“Idle” speed is defined as the minimum speed necessary to maintain steerage.
Small general: Most uses less than 100,000 gpd.
Exceptions to speed restrictions are contained in the rules and include activities reasonably necessary to prevent the loss of life or property due to weather conditions or other reasonably unforeseen circumstances or to render necessary assistance to persons or property.
— Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service