I was extremely saddened and confused to learn that Lee County led the entire state of Florida in manatee deaths during 2019 with 144 total deaths, coupled with 182 deaths in 2018. Of the 144 deaths in 2019, 26 were confirmed to be caused by watercraft, also the highest statistic in the state, and 72 were categorized as “unrecovered,” an ambiguous definition that in my opinion, could still be related to watercraft injury. This is not a statistic we, as Florida residents, should be proud of; in fact, we should be ashamed.
Now allow me to explain my confusion; I have been a resident of the Bay Beach area for over 33 years, now residing at the Waterside Development; I am also a floating dock owner at Waterside and an avid boater. For the past 22 years or more, the channel leading from Fish Tale Marina to the start of Big Carlos Pass has always been a “No Wake / Idle-Slow Speed” zone area. Sometime at the end of 2019 new signs were posted, changing this back to an alleged “old statute,” which indiscriminately defines this channel area as a 25 mile per hour zone; (and we all know 25 mph means 35 mph for many disreputable boaters.) This is confusing because no one knows who exactly physically did this or who actually has the total jurisdiction of this area. I don’t even have the words to describe how confusing and maddening this is for many of us, why this was even necessary, given the substantial risk and damage which is now occurring.
We are the leading county in the state for watercraft related manatee deaths, yet the “powers that be” have increased the speed limit from “no wake” to 25 miles per hour! This obviously seems ridiculous in the context of trying to limit or decrease manatee deaths, despite comments from public officials that claim manatees are less active in this season. (We observed one near our dock just last week) After 40 years of personal boating experience, I can safely assume that no boat traveling 25 plus mph can stop in time to avoid hitting this slow moving mammal; that is impossible. Therefore, this change, unless a person in authority can explain otherwise, does absolutely NOTHING to create positive change for the wildlife in our channel.
In point of fact, this change has proven extremely negative in many other ways, proving to be dangerous and destructive in the following ways:
- The wake created by these boats traveling at 25 mph can now be as high as 3-5 feet depending on the size of the boat.
- Extreme wave action is eroding our shore line, damaging the mangroves, and damaging our sea walls.
- The 42 floating docks at the Waterside development are in imminent danger of substantial damage from wave action that was never there when they were permitted and installed over 22 years ago; the engineering and design of these docks were predicated on the current postings in the channel which indicated a “no wake” zone. They were NOT designed for 25 mph large watercraft adjacent travel.
- Recently there have been reports of several dock users experiencing injury from attempting to board a boat from the dock which is pitching up and down at a vertical rate differential sometimes of 2’ or 3’ from the wave action, thus creating a serious public safety hazard by making it nearly impossible to board any watercraft.
In summary, I am asking all Fort Myers Beach City Council members, county officials with Florida Fish and Wildlife, the Coast Guard, the Lee County Sheriff, the State of Florida officials, and the residents of Bay Beach for any help possible to get this speed reduced back to a safe “no wake” zone before we create any more manatee deaths, or worse yet, any threat to human life and safety. The bottom line is that the increased 25 mph speed in this channel poses a very high risk and substantial liability for all those public and official entities named above should a person become injured or dies from the new 25 mph speed limits in this channel. I urge you to consider that just because an old and outdated speed statute was somehow indiscriminately and secretly resurrected does NOT mean it is applicable today, given all current conditions.
by John Russo and Jeff Helman