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Top Florida Ports official seeks petition to protect whales tossed

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Ports Council President and CEO Mike Rubin is raising alarms that proposed changes to protect an endangered whale species could economically hurt ports from Tampa to Pensacola.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is nearing the end of a public-comment period on a petition from conservation organizations to establish a year-round 10-knot vessel speed limit in the “core” habitat area of the endangered Rice’s whale.

Rubin wants the petition tossed.

“It’s as if NOAA wants Florida to hang up a ‘closed for business’ sign,” Rubin said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Florida’s Gulf of Mexico seaports play an enormous role in fueling (providing petroleum products to) Florida, and are essential suppliers of everything from food to medical supplies, and construction materials to build homes, roads and make ongoing hurricane repairs in Southwest Florida.”

The petition, filed in 2021, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Healthy Gulf, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, and the New England Aquarium seeks to create a “vessel slowdown zone” in waters 100 meters to 400 meters deep from Pensacola to south of Tampa to protect the whale from collisions with vessels and noise.