ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Manatees are on the move this time of year, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding boaters to keep an eye out for the slow-moving marine mammals, especially during November – Manatee Awareness Month.
As water temperatures cool, manatees are migrating to warmer waters. Manatees depend on water warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit to survive the winter, so in the fall they travel to springs, power plant discharges and other warm-water sites.
FWC urges boaters to follow all posted manatee protection zones, look out while boating, wear polarized glasses and always give them space. Manatee protection zones are marked by waterway signs. Maps of manatee protection zones are available online at MyFWC.org by clicking on “Data and Maps.”
Collisions with boats remain the leading cause of human-related death for manatees, according to oceanconservancy.org.
“Manatees live in coastal waters, estuaries and rivers, which happens to be where there is a lot of boat traffic. They also feed on seagrasses that grow in sunny, shallow waters, meaning they spend a lot of time close to the surface, putting them more at risk for boat strikes,” according to the Ocean Conservancy website.
Disturbing manatees at warm-water sites can cause them to swim out of those protected areas and into potentially life-threatening cold water.
Manatees are sometimes difficult to see on the water and you may see a swirl on the surface caused by the manatee when it dives, or see an animal’s back, snout, tail or flipper break the surface of the water. You may only hear the manatee when it surfaces to breathe. In any instance, keep your distance and observe passively, according to the FWC.
FWC law enforcement officers are on patrol in state waters to inform boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take appropriate enforcement actions, according to the FWC website. The manatee is protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. The manatee is also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which states: “It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.”
Do not attempt to handle manatees but instead report injured, distressed, sick or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by dialing #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone so responders can assist.
Resources for boaters, educators and other interested members of the public are available online.