Friday, January 19, 2007
The Federal Government says so - right there in 40 CFR under Fish and Wildlife and under the great Dept of Environmental Protection.
When does protection include allowing one specifc "sanctuary" to let manatees be used for commercial profit?
In one place in FL you can "swim with the manatees", despite a federal and FL state law that says harassing the harmless, slowing moving mammals is a felony punishable by fines up to $100,000.00. The CFR says you can't interfere with their normal life cycle, or follow them, or bother them by trying to swim with them.
With one exception, Homosassa Springs, where you can rent a boat and go "see them" up close, or rent dive gear and go bother them. Why? So some tour operator can make money.
A spring 2006 article in the St. Petersburg Times calls the tours the "cash cows" of the Springs.
So, who got paid off in which circle of government to allow the welfare of one tour operator to be more important than the welfare of a species I wonder.
I too have thought about this and I am currently investigating a topic for an essay I am writing about ecotourism and the Florida manatee; it's negative and positive impacts, as well as alternatives and how we can better regulate the current situation of swim-with-a-manatee endeavors.
It's very easy to say just stop it all. But like all marine mammals, economies worldwide will exploit them to their advantage. Now the question is, we can use ecotourism to exploit them and educate people all the while, or we can exploit them by removing them from the ecosystem and using them for valuable oils, hide, meat, or medicines (which is what Japan is currently doing, along with other countries in the far North.) It's really a lose-lose situation, but how much we lose by is where the question arises, "which exploitation method do we use?"
It's very frustrating, but the economy of Crystal River has been depending on this source of income for quite some time and it would be detrimental if it were to shut down so abruptly. Maybe a law could be passed to say no more tour operators are allowed to enter the business area. Or perhaps limit the number of people that enter the manatee areas daily. An even better idea would be to set aside a day or two a week where no tour members or people in general are allowed in the waters, to give the manatee a break so to speak.
The rules are there really, but what we really need is serious enforcement. You can bet that if a handful of thousand dollar fines were given out a week and the media knew about it, people would be a lot more apt to follow the rules. But as it is right now, breaking the rules sometimes leads to a slapping of the hand and that's about it.