INDIAN RIVER LAGOON – Boaters who frequent the waters of the Indian River Lagoon take heed – crews are busy installing, replacing and repairing the manatee and speed zone signs along the waterway.
“We’re not adding any more zones,” Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Lenny Salberg said, only taking care of those signs that need to be updated. “They’re in bad shape.”
The hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 walloped many of the manatee safety zone signs and the slow speed – no wake zone signs, forcing FWC enforcement officials to issue warnings instead of citations.
With the reestablishment of better defined zones and rules, boaters can expect to receive citations instead of warnings if they violate the posted regulations.
State funds from marina fuel sales taxes are paying for the work. Officials could not say how much it will cost to replace and fix the signs in the Indian River County’s portion of the lagoon.
Martin Smithson, a member of the Sebastian Inlet District, said he supports the new signs.
“The more information for boaters – the better,” he said. “It’s all good.”
The district is responsible for the navigational markers already in the lagoon, he said. FWC’s manatee and boat speed zone signs will be attached to those markers.
“I think it’s great,” said Joe Main, general manager of the Sebastian Inlet Marina. “The signage we currently have is weak.”
He said that, for the most part, only local boaters know where to go slow and where the manatee zones are. The new signs will better help boaters know how fast to travel and where to keep a keen eye out for the manatees.
“The average person doesn’t know,” Main said.
FWC has contracted out the work with various businesses to install the new signs. Work has already gotten underway in the Indian River County portion of the lagoon.
The 47 flip-style manatee zone signs have been replaced with dual-message static signs that reflect the two regulatory zone messages year-round.
Before the swap, FWC officials twice a year had to flip the signs to represent the current rules. Now, both sets of rules will be posted – marked for the appropriate time of year.
Along with replacing the manatee zone signs, crews will be installing 29 new markers posting the appropriate speed zones.
St. Lucie and Brevard counties’ portions of the lagoon, too, will have new signage as well.
FWC officials hope to complete the sign replacement project by June.
“It’s all about slowing down vessel traffic in areas where vessel congestion occurs and manatees frequent, to protect the safety of the boating public and our manatees,” said Capt. Steve Wayne, of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement, in a prepared statement about the project. “Clearly marked zones improve operator compliance.”
Along with replacing aged and damaged signs, crews will also remove non-permitted or illegal signs, which cause operator confusion and make the zones unenforceable.
Signs that display incorrect or outdated regulatory information will be either removed or replaced.
For more information visit MyFWC.com/Boating to see state manatee protection and boating safety regulations and maps.