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2014-2015 Save the Manatee Annual Trust Fund Report

2014-2015 Save the Manatee Annual Trust Fund Report


Executive Summary

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is pleased to submit this annual report on the expenditures from the Save the Manatee Trust Fund (Trust Fund), per section 379.2431(4)(b), Florida Statutes (F.S.). The Trust Fund is the primary source of funding for the State's manatee-related research and conservation activities. As required by Florida law, the report is provided to the President of the Florida Senate and the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives by December 1, each year. This report covers the period from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

During FY 2014-15, FWC accomplished a key goal of the Manatee Management Plan (MMP) with the publication of results from the first statewide abundance estimate of the Florida manatee in the journal, Biological Conservation. The findings represent a significant improvement over the traditional survey, commonly called the "synoptic survey." Although the synoptic approach provides researchers with a count of manatees visible in Florida waters at the time of the survey, these traditional methods do not allow estimation of the number of manatees that are not visible during the surveys, therefore the count is considered to be a minimum count of the statewide population. A traditional synoptic survey was conducted in February 2015, and while survey conditions aided biologists in documenting a record high manatee count—6,063, the count is not statistically comparable to previous synoptic counts. This limitation is because of the inability to account for manatees not seen during the synoptic-style fly over (related to weather and water conditions, and manatee behavior) which results in counts that vary widely across surveys. Such weaknesses were recognized in the MMP, which establishes a primary conservation goal to "implement peer-reviewed and statistically sound methods to estimate the manatee population and monitor trends".

Designing a new method for estimating manatees has been challenging because manatees occur over large landscapes and are often in near shore habitats that make it difficult to apply typical survey methods. To meet this challenge, a state-of-the-art approach was designed, tested, and vetted. The new, recently published approach is a benchmark achievement in monitoring manatees that includes an innovative sampling design and incorporates statistical methods to help account for key sources of variation. The new methods not only provide an estimate of the Florida manatee population, but also, an associated level of confidence, thus giving conservation managers a good sense of how far it may fall from reality. Using the new technique, FWC researchers estimate that manatee statewide abundance for the period of 2011 and 2012 was likely between 5,310 – 7,390 animals, with a best estimate of 6,350.

Importantly, abundance estimates will be included in comprehensive population models that provide conservation managers with robust evaluations of the population and incorporate the best current information regarding the biology of manatees, as well as leading threats to their long-term survival. Model results forecast the population dynamics of the Florida manatee and are a tool to aid conservation decision making. FWC researchers have been working closely with partner agencies to revise and combine multiple sources of manatee monitoring information, such as adult survival rates and reproductive rates obtained through photo-identification studies. Updated population models and data from monitoring programs will help researchers better understand the long-term implications of recent unusual mortality events on manatee population projections.

Manatee management staff continued to work with partners and stakeholders to provide manatee conservation measures for a wide variety of activities. Staff have two ongoing habitat protection and restoration projects in development phases. One project is at Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County, which will be under construction in the summer of 2016, and the other is in Sarasota County, currently in the data collection and engineering phase. Both projects, when completed, will provide benefits to manatee and other fish and wildlife habitat and to recreational visitors to these natural spring systems.

Partners in Federal, State and county governments are working with manatee management staff to revise the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan’s (CERP) Manatee Protection Guidelines that were first developed in 2006. This document provides guidelines that can be implemented for CERP projects that will assist planners to protect manatees and expedite their permitting process. FWC is also working closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District to reduce entrapments and manatee deaths at water-control structures and navigational locks in the Everglades region. Both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District are investigating new technologies that will continue to make these structures safer, with the added benefit of having protection systems that are less costly to install and maintain. The efforts made by these agencies to date have resulted in safer structures for manatee passage, and the future looks promising for additional progress.

Additionally, during the past year, program outreach staff made a concerted effort to inform the paddling community about compatible manatee viewing. FWC outreach materials were developed to coincide with an increasing interest in recreational kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding. These activities can often place paddlers in close proximity to manatees and their habitat. Management staff developed informational materials including updated brochures and web links that now specifically address paddle sport enthusiasts. In conjunction with the paddle sports effort, program outreach staff also developed wildlife viewing guidelines, as well as this year’s Florida manatee decal with a paddle sports graphic.

These activities are possible because of funding from the Save the Manatee Trust Fund. The Trust Fund receives money from sales of manatee license plates and decals, boat registration fees, and voluntary donations. Revenues for FY 2014-2015 totaled $3,825,986. Appropriations from the Trust Fund for the same period were $4,386,958, with $325,000 provided for manatee research activities at Mote Marine Laboratory, and a service charge to General Revenue of $306,454, which most trust funds are required by law to pay. In FY 2014-2015, FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation expended $1,073,121 for conservation activities and the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute expended $1,863,014 on research and monitoring.