Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 12, 2014

Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190,

New Report: Fast-track Permit System for Watercraft Access Ignores Manatee Deaths,
Speedily Approving Thousands of New Docks, Ramps

Boat Strikes Remain Lead Cause of Death for Endangered Manatees

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— A new report issued today by the Center for Biological Diversity reveals that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state of Florida have failed to consider cumulative impacts of thousands of recently permitted docks, piers and boat ramps on manatees, slow-moving and gentle endangered marine mammals. Today’s report finds that the government’s fast-track authorization of watercraft-access projects without analyzing their collective impacts is likely a key factor in enabling the boat collisions that continue to be the leading killer of manatees, resulting in an average of 82 manatees every year.  

Collision Course

The report, Collision Course: The Government’s Failing System for Protecting Florida Manatees From Deadly Boat Strikes, details how the Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps have sidestepped required cumulative-impact analyses. Instead they have prioritized permits that facilitate watercraft access, leading to deadly manatee collisions with boats and other vessels.

“The manatee has come too far, and Florida has invested too much, to be undermined by the government’s shortsighted permitting scheme,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida-based attorney. “It can and must do a better job authorizing projects and managing their impacts to avoid these grave results.”

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Mortality from collisions from watercraft continues to be the leading cause of death for manatees.
  • Neither the Army Corps of Engineers nor the Fish and Wildlife Service appear to even keep track of how many watercraft permits are issued in Florida.
  • The Corps issued at least 4,086 distinct permits facilitating watercraft access from 2008 to 2013 without considering cumulative impacts on manatees.
  • Hundreds of other permits were issued by the state of Florida that similarly avoided consideration of cumulative impacts.

The report recommends that the agencies rescind the permitting regime, known as the Manatee Key, which circumvents required analyses, including consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on impacts to protected manatees. They should reevaluate areas that are deemed adequately protected and require additional boater education about, and stricter enforcement of, speed zones.

The report comes out only weeks after the Fish and Wildlife Service closed the comment period for a proposal to downlist Florida manatees from endangered to threatened. The Service will consider the comments and review the best available scientific information before announcing its final decision.

A reclassification is not warranted, and the best available science supports the Service’s continued listing and management of the species as “endangered” — particularly in light of the fact that current efforts are insufficient to reduce manatee mortality from watercraft collisions.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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