The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is using this year’s Manatee Appreciation Day—the last Wednesday in March—to remind Floridians to keep a watchful eye out for manatees while boating this spring.
“As water temperatures warm, manatees naturally disperse from their winter habitats, traveling to other areas of the state and beyond,” FWC said in a press release.
During this time of year manatees are moving from winter homes and are more likely to populate rivers, canals and shorelines.
“This year, especially along the east coast, it is critical that people watch for manatees when on the water,” said Ron Mezich, FWC’s imperiled species management section leader. “With warmer weather, manatees will begin to disperse into open water, heading to a variety of coastal and freshwater habitats containing more ample food sources.”
From April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees in their summer habitats from being injured or killed by motorboats or personal watercrafts.
Boat strikes continue to be a major threat to Florida manatees. In 2020, FWC reported 29 manatee rescues after injuries suffered in watercraft collisions—and more died because of watercraft impacts.
FWC said its law enforcement officers are on patrol in state waters to inform boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take enforcement actions.
FWC offered the following guidelines to help protect manatees:
- Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
- Avoid boating in shallow areas to prevent damaging seagrass and to avoid resting and grazing manatees.
- Look for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
- Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.
- Follow posted manatee zones while boating.
FWC warned citizens not to attempt to help stranded or injured manatees, because it may cause additional harm. Instead officials want the public to report manatee issues to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
According to the FWC website, officials are investigating high levels of manatee mortalities along Florida coasts.