Taking their cues from the warm spring weather, Florida manatees have begun leaving their winter retreats and heading north along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and through inland waters.
So if you’re a boater enjoying spring days on the water, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) cautions you to look out for manatees and follow posted manatee zones.
From Friday, April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being struck by motorboats or personal watercraft.
FWC law enforcement officers will be on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and will take enforcement actions when necessary. Manatee zones and maps are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can select “Protection Zones” for links to county maps.
“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 and do their part as well by increasing their awareness of the possible presence of manatees.”
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 manatees:
Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
Look for the 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.
The FWC also asks anyone seeing an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee to call the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, 888-404-3922 (FWCC) or dial #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.
You can watch manatees without disturbing them if you follow Guidelines for protecting native wildlife – Florida Manatees, a brochure that includes tips for canoers, kayakers, paddle boarders, snorkelers and scuba divers. It’s available at MyFWC.com/Manatees; click on “Boat, Personal Watercraft and Paddle-sport Operators” and then on “Paddle-sport Operators.”
Support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue 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/Manatee and clicking on “Decals.”