ORLANDO, Fla. – Keeping manatees safe is a priority for Florida wildlife officials, especially as the state sees an increase in sea cow deaths caused by boats.
That's why officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Wednesday that they plan to step up patrols in areas of the state where manatees are the most at-risk.
“We strategically assign officers to patrol certain areas based on boating activity and manatee data,” said Col. Curtis Brown, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “We also work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local partners to make sure that boaters know to look out for manatees. We want people and manatees to be safe.”
FWC officers said all boaters were going at the right speed to best avoid a boat strike.
No boaters were ticketed or given warnings for going too fast.
"If people just remain on slow speed, they should be able to see them," Officer Chad Weber said.
"It's enforcement but it's also educational. If there is someone blatantly going through the manatee zone, they could be cited," Weber said.
Lee, Brevard and Volusia counties have all seen an increase in watercraft-related deaths. So far statewide in 2019, boat injuries have killed 89 manatees compared to 65 this time last year.
It's not just up to wildlife officials to keep manatees safe. Every Floridian can do his or her part by following the tips provided by FWC below.
- Anyone operating a watercraft should abide by posted speed limit signs and wear polarized glasses to reduce the glare on the water, making marine animals easier to spot.
- Stay in deep-water channels whenever possible, making sure to avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas.
- Use a propeller guard appropriately if you have one on your vessel. Reduce your speed when using one in order to give manatees time to get out of the way and reduce the chance of one being struck or injured by it.
- Be aware of manatees but do not touch or attempt to feed or chase them. If you violate this state wildlife law, you could face a $500 fine.
- Never litter, especially not near waterways. If you see debris, pick it up and dispose of it properly. That includes recycling monofilament fishing line in a designated bin or at a tackle shop.
- If you see an injured manatee, you should immediately call FWC's wildlife alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
For more information about what you can do to support manatees, click here.