Elizabeth Fleming, Florida Representative
This has been a rough year for manatees so far. A record number of these marine mammals have died from the toxic effects of a large and persistent red tide outbreak in southwest Florida, while more than 100 manatees have perished in Brevard County on Florida’s Atlantic coast following a massive die off of seagrass, their main food source.
So far, more than 670 have died in 2013. Of these, more than 40 have been killed by watercraft. At this rate, it is likely that 2013 will surpass 2010 as the deadliest year on record for manatees. And since our busy boating season is upon us, it is more important than ever for boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts to be mindful of a few small changes that can help save manatees’ lives.
Whether you live in Florida or are visiting, there are some simple things you can do while boating in manatee waters:
- Be alert while boating and always obey posted speed zone waterway signs—remember, manatees could be anywhere
- Slow down. Reducing boat speed gives boaters a better chance to see manatees and avoid them, and gives manatees time to get of a boat’s path
- Attend safe boating classes
- Always wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare for best visibility beneath the surface of the water
- Keep a look out for “signs” of manatees, such as a snout breaking the surface or a swirl or flat spot in the water caused by a swimming manatee’s tail
- Stay in deep water channels and avoid boating over shallow seagrass beds where manatees may be feeding
Boating isn’t the only way people can interact with manatees. It’s also important to take certain steps to be careful when you see manatees while you’re on shore or swimming out in the water:
- Do not feed or provide water to manatees. This includes things like attracting manatees to a dock by spraying hoses into the water, which brings them too close to watercraft traffic and puts them in harm’s way.
- When in the water, stay at the surface, at a distance, and never approach a resting or feeding manatee
- Stay out of posted manatee sanctuary areas
- Never separate a mother and calf pair
- Do not touch, poke, ride or chase manatees in the wild
- Use only snorkel gear in manatee habitat; SCUBA gear is noisy and can disturb manatees
- Report manatee deaths, injuries, harassment, accidents or orphaned manatees — call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert number: 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC)
Safely observing manatees from a distance is a unique experience. Here at Defenders, we do a great deal of advocacy and public education to establish safe places for manatees, but ultimately the best way to protect them is for everyone out on or near the water to be aware of how our actions can affect these gentle giants, and what small and simple steps we can take to protect them.