1998-1999 Save the Manatee Trust Fund Annual Report
Manatees are marine mammals that can be found in Florida's coastal and riverine waters throughout the year. The Florida manatee is listed as an endangered species. 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 federally approved Florida Manatee Recovery Plan of 1995. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act declared the state to be a refuge and sanctuary for the manatee and subsequent amendments have given the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) a wide range of responsibilities. The Recovery Plan lists 126 separate tasks that need to be accomplished. Many of these tasks are addressed through a cooperative effort between federal, state, and local governments.
Florida's manatees typically average around 8-10 feet in length and weigh around 1,000 pounds. The largest manatees may reach 13 feet in length and weigh over 3,500 pounds. Manatees are aquatic plant eaters and are most commonly seen eating, resting, or traveling. Female manatees are pregnant for 12-14 months and usually give birth to a single calf measuring about 3-4 feet in length. The calves remain with their mothers for up to two years. Manatees face a variety of threats including deaths from human-related causes (collisions with watercraft, crushings in water control gates and locks, and entanglements in fishing gear), as well as destruction and degradation of their habitat. Manatees have also died as a result of exposure to harmful algal blooms, the effects of cold water, and natural disease.
Funding for the state's research and management activities is provided primarily from the Save the Manatee Trust Fund, which receives money from sales of a manatee license plate, boat registration fees, decal sales, voluntary contributions, and interest income. Revenues for the Save the Manatee Trust Fund for Fiscal Year 1998-99 totaled only $3,498,009 as shown in the accompanying pie chart. Environmental education programs were funded through a $499,500 appropriation to the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC). The 1998-99 legislative appropriation for manatee and marine mammal programs was allocated to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (FDEP) research and management programs within the Division of Marine Resources, contracts to non-governmental research organizations, to oceanaria participating in the rescue and rehabilitation of manatees, and to a private educational facility. Research activities coordinated by the Division's Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI) in St. Petersburg totaled $2,032,471. Management activities conducted by the Division's Bureau of Protected Species Management (BPSM) totaled $1,925,962. 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 personnel at the FMRI and the BPSM. The 1999 legislature transferred both FMRI and BPSM to the new FWC effective July 1, 1999.
The human-related problems that manatees and their aquatic habitat face did not develop suddenly, nor will they be solved quickly. 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. The FWC recognizes that a complete approach will include regulation, research, and raising the environmental awareness of Florida's citizens and visitors. Individuals utilizing Florida's waterways for recreation or business have a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to the preservation of manatees and their habitat by being aware of and complying with waterway regulations. These regulations have been designed by balancing the protection of this endangered species with the needs of Florida's human population.