Award-winning reporter coming to Miami Book Fair to discuss his book on Florida environmental issues, especially protecting manatees

For over 20 years, Craig Pittman covered some of the most contentious environmental issues in the state of Florida when he was reporter for the Tampa Bay Times.

His book, Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species, chronicles the history over the controversial protection laws for manatees in Florida and cites landmark court cases that pitted manatee safety advocates and environmentalists against boaters and waterfront homes owners.

Pittman, 61, has written six books, including Oh Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, a New York Times bestseller that won a gold medal from the Florida Book Awards.

But Manatee Insanity, published in 2010 by University Press of Florida, covers environmentalists' efforts to keep manatees out of harm's way from speeding boaters.

The native Flordian will be among more than 600 authors at the 39th annual Miami Book Fair at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 N.E. 2nd Avenue.The November 13-20 event includes a three-day street fair.

Pittman, who lives in St. Petersburg, said manatees appear on state license plates, attract hordes of tourists – and expose the uneasy relationships between science and the law, and between freedom and responsibility.

"It's an interesting history,” Pittman said, noting the controversial nature of manatee protection in Florida. "The first regulation in 1990, and big lawsuits in 2000, created all the controversy."

For years, environmental groups – led by Save the Manatee Club – pushed for regulations to control boat speeds in manatee protection zones. But, said Pittman, boaters disagreed with the restrictions, as did developers.

Lawsuits were filed back and forth between environmentalists, manatee protection advocates and boaters and developers.

Pittman both sides reached a settlement on several occasions, but environmentalists later targeted waterfront properties by advocating for a limitation of docks after several boating accidents and speeding killed manatees.

Pittman said Florida leads the nation in the number of boating accidents and deaths, which raised the concerns about protecting manatees. Boat speed laws in Florida haven’t done a great job of protecting manatees – 25 percent of their deaths each year are caused by speeding watercraft.

Pittman said manatees are protected by both state and federal laws.

"A lot of focus for these (conservation advocacy) groups is to protect manatees," he said. "How can we stop this? How can we get them to realize that this is a real problem? How can we get them to slow down?"

During his stint with the Tampa Bay Times, Pittman won numerous state and national awards for his environmental reporting. He now is co-host of the "Welcome to Florida" podcast.

Pittman is also a writer for the Florida Phoenix, a non-profit digital news service, and in 2020 was named a Florida Literary Legend at the Florida Heritage Book Festival.


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