1996-1997 Save the Manatee Trust Fund Annual Report
Florida manatees are marine mammals that inhabit the coastal and riverine waters of the state throughout the year. They have been listed by the federal government as an endangered species. The largest animals in the population may reach fourteen feet in length and weigh almost 3800 pounds, but most individuals are shorter and smaller. Manatees are herbivores (eating aquatic plants), and are not aggressive towards humans. Female manatees usually give birth to a single calf measuring about three to four feet in length; calves remain with their mothers for up to two years. The recovery of the manatee population is impeded by mortalities from human-related causes (e.g., from collisions with watercraft, becoming trapped in floodgates and locks, and becoming entangled in fishing gear), as well as from degradation of their habitat.
Protection of manatees in Florida has been legislatively mandated since 1892. Current state efforts to recover the population are guided by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 and the revised Florida Manatee Recovery Plan of 1995. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act declared the state to be a refuge and sanctuary for the manatee. The Act and subsequent amendments gave the Department of Environmental Protection (formerly the Department of Natural Resources) the authority to protect manatees from disturbance and harassment, injury, and intentional mortality. The Florida Manatee Recovery Plan lists 126 separate tasks that need to be accomplished to recover the Florida population of the West Indian manatee. Many of these tasks are addressed through a cooperative effort between federal, state, and local governments.
Funding for research and management activities in Florida was authorized through the Save the Manatee Trust Fund, which contains money from sales of a manatee specialty license plate, partial proceeds from state boat registration fees, county-imposed boat registration fees, voluntary contributions, and interest income. Revenues for the Save the Manatee Trust Fund for Fiscal Year 1996-97 totaled almost $7.5 million, as shown in the accompanying pie chart; the revenue was unusually high this year due to a redistribution of funds when the Save Our State Environmental Education Trust Fund was eliminated. The legislative appropriation for manatee and marine mammal programs in 1996-97 was allocated to FDEP manatee and marine mammals research and management programs within the Division of Marine Resources, contracts to other research organizations, and oceanaria participating in the rescue and rehabilitation of manatees. Research activities coordinated by the Division's Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg totaled $1,995,746. Management activities conducted by the Division's Bureau of Protected Species Management, including oceanaria contracts, totaled $2,665,449. Environmental education through the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission was supported by $1,070,770 from the Fund. Budgetary breakdowns for individual program units for both the research and management efforts are depicted on the next page, followed by summaries of the work performed by FDEP personnel at the Florida Marine Research Institute and the Bureau of Protected Species Management.
The human-related problems that manatees and their aquatic ecosystem face did not develop suddenly, and they will not be solved quickly. The solutions are complex and time consuming, as documented in the Florida Manatee Recovery Plan and as evidenced by the complexity of tasks undertaken by FDEP each year. Through the cooperation of local, federal, and state agencies, private organizations, and corporations, effective partnerships have been created to constructively address the recovery of the manatee population. FDEP persists in its efforts to heighten the environmental awareness of Florida's citizens and visitors, realizing that each person can make a significant contribution to the preservation of manatees and Florida's ecosystems by becoming aware of and complying with regulations that were designed both to protect this endangered species and to accommodate the growth of Florida's human population. FDEP will continue to coordinate its applied marine research programs with ecosystem management practices and clean water regulatory controls, assuring that the habitat quality that sustains manatees can be improved and maintained within the State of Florida.