WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Memorial Day weekend is considered by some to be the unofficial start of summer and, by no coincidence, a great time to get back in the water. Unfortunately, according to conservationists and wildlife officials, manatees have similar plans.
It’s around this time of year that Florida’s beloved sea cows leave their winter habitats, placing them in harm’s way as they navigate through bodies of water where they risk being flayed alive by irresponsible boaters. For the holiday weekend, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers will be patrolling these waterways to make sure boaters are following the rules.
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Rachel Shanker, a liaison and educator at Florida Power and Light’s Manatee Lagoon center, urged boaters to be mindful of manatees and to follow the speed limit in manatee zones.
“We have so many amazing species, such as manatees, sea turtles and many more that are often hit by boats. So we have to be very cautious and aware as we’re out on the water,” Shanker said.
In a statement, the center stressed the importance of avoiding as much preventable manatee death as possible, as the species is attempting to recover from an ongoing unusual mortality event (UME) that killed a record 1,100 manatees in 2021. The trend was deemed a UME in April 2021 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as manatees were starved, mostly in the Indian River Lagoon, prompting never before seen efforts to supplement their diet.
According to FWC, at least 31 manatees have been killed by watercraft so far in 2022. Manatee Lagoon suggested following these safety tips in order to keep that number from rising on your behalf:
- Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare.
- Avoid steering your watercraft in shallow areas where manatees could be grazing.
- Look for “manatee footprints,” large circles in water that form above manatees.
- Obey the speed limit in posted FWC seasonal manatee protection zones and in no wake zones.
- Look for manatee snouts peeking above the water.
- Never approach, feed or give water to manatees.
Report injured, distressed, sick or dead manatees to FWC by calling its alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).