Florida’s manatees are large aquatic mammals, which are recognizable from their thick, gray wrinkled skin. They can be found in fresh, brackish and salt water throughout Florida, including navigable canals. They’ve even been know to get through lock systems to move further up river and into canal systems.
Manatees can be slow moving creatures, spending most of their time eating and sleeping. They can live for over 60 years, but sadly only about half of wild manatees will survive into their twenties.
Manatees reproduce at a slow rate. Since a calf is dependent on its more for at least 2 years, manatees can only give birth to a new calf every 3 years.
Their slow rate of reproduction, and high death rates make long-term recovery of the manatee population very difficult.
Collisions with Watercraft
Manatees are mammals, which means they must re-surface to breathe every 2-4 minutes. This means that manatees are often found very close to the surface of the water, increasing their risk of being hit by watercraft. In fact, the largest cause of human-related manatee mortality is watercraft collision. Most manatees have scars on their backs or tails from collisions with watercraft.
How Boaters Can Help Protect Florida’s Manatees
Boat operators in Florida can help to protect Florida’s Manatees in the following ways:
- Ask one of your passengers to keep a lookout for manatees while you’re underway.
- If you see a manatee, give it plenty of room. They usually travel in groups, so if you see one, there are likely others near by.
- Keep an eye out for circular wave patterns on the surface of the water. These are created by their tail as it swims underwater and are known as “manatee footprints”
- Try not to pass directly over manatees
- Wear polarized sunglasses that reduce glare. This will make them easier to spot
- Be aware that manatees in shallow areas will frequently move into the channels when they hear boats approach, which may put them in the path of traveling boats
- Never feed manatees. Doing so teaches them to seek out humans and brings them into close contact with boats
Remember: Boaters will NOT be cited if they accidentally collide with a manatee while obeying speed restrictions.
Unfortunately, collisions with these animals often go unreported, since boaters are afraid that they will be fined or punished for colliding with these mammals. Please report collisions with manatees, because early rescue efforts may save the manatee’s life. In many cases injuries do not kill manatees immediately.
If you see an entangled or distressed manatee, please do not try rescuing it by yourself. Biologists trained in disentanglement can do so without further injuring the animal. Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline, and a biologist will respond.
If possible, please stay with the manatee until the biologist arrives so you can provide more information on the distressed manatee. Call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) #FWC or *FWC on cell phone, or text Tip@MyFWC.com to report:
- Accidental boat strikes to manatees
- Injured, distressed or dead manatees
- Orphaned baby manatees
- Entangled or trapped manatees
- Harassment of manatees
- Manatees caught in fishing gear
Floridians can help protect Florida’s manatees by purchasing a specialty “Save the Manatee” license plate from the county tax collector’s office. Proceeds directly benefit manatee research and conservation.
For more information on how to protect Florida’s manatees visit: http://myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/for-boaters/
Florida’s Human Waste Laws
It is illegal to discharge any raw sewage from a boat in the state of Florida, including houseboats, or any type of floating structure. The operator of any boat which has the ability to flush sewage directly into the water, or has a holding tank that can flush sewage directly into the water, must set the valve, or other mechanism to prevent sewage discharge. The valve must be locked or otherwise secured so that it cannot become unlocked and discharge sewage into the water.
If your boat is 26 feet or greater in length and has an enclosed cabin with sleeping quarters, it must be equipped with a permanent toilet that has a properly installed marine sanitation device (MSD). Additionally, all houseboats must be equipped with at least one toilet that has a properly installed, Type III MSD.
Florida’s Clean Boater Program
The Clean Boater Program is available to educate boaters on the importance of protecting the state’s waterways. They provide boaters with information about environmentally friendly practices, proper trash management, the use of a bilge sock, fueling collars and good recycling habits. Boaters can take the ‘Clean Boater Pledge’ and can also sign the ‘Clean Boater Pledge Card’ to show that they are committed to protecting the environment.
Florida’s Clean Marina Program
This is a voluntary program which brings environmental awareness to marine facilities and boaters regarding practices that are intended to protect Florida’s natural environment.
Participants in this program receive assistance in implementing best management practices and are provided with the means to assess their facilities through a checklist provided by the Department of Environmental Protection.
This program is funded through the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Inland Navigation District.
The program is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Protect Florida’s Sea Grasses
Sea grasses are plants that live submerged in marine and estuarine waters. These grasses are abundant in Florida Bay and from Tarpon Springs northward to Apalachee Bay in the Gulf. It is illegal in the state of Florida to destroy seagrass in Aquatic Preserves (violating this law can result in a fine of up to $1,000).
Seagrasses are extremely beneficial for the following reasons:
- They help maintain the clarity of the water by trapping sediment and particles.
- They stabilize the waterway bottom with their roots.
- They provide shelter for sea-life such as fish, crustaceans and shellfish.
- The seagrass, as well as the organisms that grow on the seagrass, provide food for many marine animals.
How to prevent seagrass damage:
- Become familiar with the waterway where you plan to boat and avoid areas where seagrass is abundant.
- Always use the most recent marine charts.
- Use marked channels whenever possible and remain in deep water.
- If you’re concerned about the depth of the water, slow down and ensure the boat motor is trimmed or tilted upwards.
Note: Boats with large propellers tend to cause ‘prop dredge scars’ which create zig zag patterns on seagrass flats. Practice extra caution if you’re operating a boat with a large propeller.
It is illegal in Florida to harass the local wildlife. Be aware that sea creatures, like manatees, will be sharing the Florida waterways with you!