With hopes of reducing collisions between boaters and manatees, officials at Everglades National Park are establishing speed limits in Chokoloskee Bay near Chokoloskee Island. Sixteen markers will be installed along with signs that identify new boating speed zone, park officials announced the other day.
This area of the park was designated an "Area of Inadequate Protection" by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as part of a settlement agreement reached between the USFWS and The Save the Manatee Club in 2001, a park release explained. This settlement required the USFWS to: 1) improve or enlarge manatee protection zones; 2) erect channel markers clearly designating areas where boaters must observe speed limits; and 3) enforce the limits.
The designation of the bay as an AIP had a number of outcomes that included stoppage of construction projects in the bay until this designation was removed. When the new markers are installed, the National Park Service expects the AIP designation will be removed and construction projects in the bay could proceed and that manatees will be better protected through implementation of additional protection zones.
The markers and signs are expected to be installed by the end of the month. Turrell, Hall & Associates, Inc., a marine and environmental consulting firm from Naples, Florida offered to take on the installation process and through the generosity of several donors and the firm's staff.
Boaters are advised to exercise caution in this area both during the installation process and to be vigilant of the new speed zones. The park is developing maps and information handouts for the public that will clearly explain the new zones. Two poster size maps of the zones are available for viewing in the Gulf Coast visitor center.
Questions should be directed to Gulf Coast Park Rangers at 239-695-4217.