(1) The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shall implement and administer an enhanced manatee protection study designed to increase knowledge of the factors that determine the size and distribution of the manatee population in the waters of the state. The enhanced study shall be used by the commission in its mission to provide manatees with the maximum protection possible, while also allowing maximum recreational use of the state’s waterways. The goal of the enhanced study is to collect data that will enable resource managers and state and local policymakers, in consultation with the public, to develop and implement sound science-based policies to improve manatee habitat, establish manatee protection zones, and maximize the size of safe boating areas for recreational use of state waters without endangering the manatee population.
(2)(a) As part of the enhanced manatee protection study, the Legislature intends that the commission shall contract with Mote Marine Laboratory to conduct a manatee habitat and submerged aquatic vegetation assessment that specifically considers:
1. Manatee populations that congregate in the warm water discharge sites at power plants in the state and the potential risks for disease resulting from increased congregation of manatees at these sites;
2. Development of research, monitoring, and submerged aquatic vegetation restoration priorities for manatee habitat in and near the warm water discharge sites at power plants in the state; and
3. The potential impacts on manatees and manatee habitat if power plants that provide warm water discharge sites where manatees congregate are closed, including how closure will affect the size and health of submerged aquatic vegetation areas.
(b) The Mote Marine Laboratory must submit an interim report on the manatee habitat and submerged aquatic vegetation assessment to the Governor, the Legislature, and the commission by September 1, 2006. The interim report must detail the progress of the assessment. The final report, due to the Governor, the Legislature, and the commission by January 1, 2007, must detail the results of the assessment and include recommendations for protection of manatee habitat in warm water discharge sites at power plants in the state.
(c) The commission shall ensure that funds allocated to implement the manatee habitat and submerged aquatic vegetation assessment are expended in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of this subsection. The commission may require an annual audit of the expenditures made by Mote Marine Laboratory. Copies of any audit requested under this subsection must be provided to the appropriate substantive and appropriations committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives as they become available.
(3) As part of the enhanced manatee protection study, the Legislature intends that the commission must conduct a signage and boat speed assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of manatee protection signs and sign placement and to assess boat speeds. The commission shall evaluate existing data on manatee mortality before and after existing manatee protection zones were established, boater compliance and comprehension of regulatory signs and buoys, changes in boating traffic patterns, and manatee distribution and behavior. The commission shall also provide recommendations on innovative marker designs that are in compliance with the federal aids to navigation system. The signage and boat speed assessment must address:
(a) The effectiveness of signs and buoys to warn boaters of manatee slow-speed zones, with a goal of developing federally approved standards for marking manatee protection zones;
(b) A determination of where buoys may be used in place of pilings for boating safety purposes; and
(c) An evaluation of higher speed travel corridors in manatee zones to determine the most effective speed to balance safe boating, recreational use, vessel operating characteristics, and manatee protection.
The commission shall complete its signage and boat speed assessment by January 1, 2007, and must submit a report of its findings to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by February 1, 2007. The report must detail the results of the assessment and identify specific recommendations for developing state and local policies relating to the appropriate placement of signs, including innovative markers, in manatee slow-speed zones.
(4) The commission is authorized to develop and implement the use of genetic tagging to improve its ability to assess the status and health of the manatee population, including the health and reproductive capacity of manatees, estimating annual survival rates through mark recapture studies, determining migration patterns, and determining maternity and paternity. The development and use of genetic tagging may be done in cooperation with federal agencies or other entities, such as genetic laboratories at schools within the State University System.