As springtime arrives, chances increase that manatees and boaters will have close encounters. Boaters can enjoy opportunities to observe one of Florida’s unique species but to avoid colliding with manatees, people on the water should take basic steps such as slowing down, watching out for the animals and complying with regulations in manatee zones.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers will be on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones that go into effect in April. They will be taking enforcement actions when necessary. “Our officers do their very best to support conservation of this species,” said FWC Capt. Gary Klein. “We ask that boaters take notice of the zones anddo their part as well.” In effect from April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being struck by motorboats or personal watercraft. For more information on manatee zones and maps, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee and select “Protection Zones,” where there are links to county maps. In spring, manatees leave their winter warmer-water habitats, such as freshwater springs and power plant discharge areas, and disperse along Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts and inland waters. Because manatees are large, slow-moving and difficult to detect when underwater, operators of boats and personal watercraft need to take basic steps to avoid causing injury to the marine mammals: • Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
• Look for the large circles onthe water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
• Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.
The FWC also asks anyone seeing an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee to call the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, 888404-3922 (FWCC) or dial #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. People can support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and management efforts by purchasing a “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate at BuyaPlate.com, or by donating $5 to receive an FWC manatee decal by going to MyFWC.com/ Manatees and clicking on “Decals.” For more about manatees, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can find the brochure, A Boater’s Guide to Living with Manatees.