Early Legal Protections of Manatees
Manatees were protected as early as 1764. British Colonial Records indicated "His Majesty (proposed) that an Instruction should be given to the Governor of the Provence of East Florida to restrain him from granting to any person whatsoever, without His Majesty’s particular Orders and directions, those parts of the Coast of the said Province frequented by the Animals called the Manati or Sea Cow, where they have their Echouries [estuaries] or Landing Places." The edict was largely ignored and the hunting of manatees for food and other uses continued. The first state statute protecting the manatee was enacted in 1893 (Ch. 4208.94) and by 1907 a $500 fine and or 6 months imprisonment was assessed against anyone molesting a manatee (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2007).
Current Federal Protections of Manatees
More recent federal protections for the manatee primarily stem from the following Federal laws: the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Additional protections for the manatee are afforded by the Clean Water Act of 1977 (CWA).
Florida State Protections of Manatees
In addition to federal laws, the State of Florida has enacted its own set of concurrent protections to the manatee. The primary authority comes from the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, s. 370.12 (2), Florida Statutes (2006). The process is described and further clarified in Chapter 68C-22, Florida Administrative Code (Antista, 2004; State of Florida, 2006; State of Florida, 2007). The state protects the manatee independently of the manatee’s status as a “state or federal listed species.” These laws require boaters to maintain their distance from manatees, and make it illegal to harass or feed a manatee.
Florida Manatee Regulations
The FWC establishes regulatory zones in areas that manatees inhabit on a regular basis and where manatee sightings are frequent. Such zones include: “Idle Speed Zone,” “Slow Speed Zone,” “Motorboat Prohibited Zone,” “No Entry Zone,” “Maximum 25 MPH Speed Zone,” “Maximum 30 MPH Speed Zone,” and “Maximum 35 MPH Speed Zone.” These zones have been applied to waterways with frequent manatee sightings and can coincide with federal and local manatee protections. Permits are available for events and groups that allow for vessel operation outside the protected zone parameters. These include: Commercial Fishing and Professional Guiding Exemptions; Owners or Residents of Waterfront Property in Limited Entry Areas; Boat and Motor Manufacturing Testing Permits; Boat Races; and Research, Educational, Construction, Maintenance or Repairs (State of Florida, 2007).