FORT PIERCE, Fla. — It is one of the simplest ways for boaters to help protect Florida’s beloved manatees: slowing your speed.
Boaters speeding through a manatee zone in Fort Pierce have been keeping Florida Fish and Wildlife officers busy.
But more times than not, officers say their speeding might be to blame on confusing, misleading signs in the intracoastal.
In a letter to the state, FWC Officer David Bingham said between November 11, 2021 and March 22, 2022, he alone has written 28 warnings and 10 citations relating to manatee violations, with the majority of those being written between the north and south causeways in the intracoastal in Fort Pierce.
“I feel the majority of these violations occurred because of poor signage,” Bingham wrote.
He gives examples of nine signs in the area that he would like changed.
Some signs are wordy and could be simplified. Others amplify the higher speed rules over the slow, idle rules. Additionally, multiple signs are close together, each with different messages that could confuse boaters.
One example he gave was a sign on the south bridge that only gives information about idle speeds outside of the intracoastal, which he says boaters interpret to mean they can go fast in the intracoastal.
It reads, “Manatee Zone. Idle Speed No Wake West of ICW Channel. Slow Speed Minimum Wake East of ICW Channel”
He’d like that to read “SLOW SPEED MINIMUM WAKE. ICW exempt 30 MPH May 1 to Nov 14” in small lettering on the bottom.
After recommending changes to nine signs, he wrote “This area is critical and should be reviewed to reduce the number of violations clearly encountered and the confusion on behalf of the boaters coming into our area.”
Stacin Gregson is a boater who was temporarily living on his sailboat in Fort Pierce.
“You can hear the boats speeding,” he said.
He captured dozens of videos of boats appearing to speed through the manatee zone, which he sent to FWC.
He also told officers he agreed the signs were the problem, feeling there was no way so many boaters were knowingly violating the law.
“It turned out it was rampant, just one after the other,” Greyson said. “I thought maybe the sign was too confusing.”
He’s glad to see the local officer trying to make improvements.
“It seems like a simple start if people are confused by the dates, maybe put something up that’s easier for people to quickly realize this is a manatee zone,” Greyson said.
FWC has not said if changes are being considered yet, but the agency is aware of the concerns.
Gregson feels it is one threat manatees are facing that he can try to resolve, “There’s other causes, but why wouldn’t you do something about one of the causes you can control…I think every normal person just doesn’t want to see dead manatees.”