Boating tips to help keep manatees safe this Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a busy boating holiday with Florida’s appealing waterways beckoning in-state and out-of-state boaters to enjoy its many charms, including manatees. Save the Manatee Club urges residents and visitors to watch out for manatees throughout the holiday and beyond.

The largest known cause of manatee mortality is from collisions with boats. Additionally, most living manatees have been hit by boats — many manatees have been hit multiple times — and most suffer through these injuries which can negatively affect their ability to eat, swim, mate and take care of their young. Manatees must surface to breathe and prefer shallow waters. Any boat, moving fast, can injure or kill a manatee if there is not enough clearance for the boat’s hull to pass safely over a manatee’s back. Slowing down in manatee habitat is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of watercraft-related injury and death.

In order to safeguard manatees and to curb the number of manatee injuries and deaths from boat collisions, Save the Manatee Club offers a number of free public awareness materials to help boaters protect manatees. One of these is a Boating Safety Packet, which contains a weatherproof boat decal with a hotline number for reporting manatee injuries, deaths or harassment. It also includes a waterproof waterway card that was created in conjunction with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It can easily be hung and kept on board a vessel and features examples of regulatory signs posted for manatee protection, with information in English, French, Spanish and German.

Save the Manatee Club also provides free waterproof banners for boaters and public awareness signs for Florida shoreline property owners. The bright yellow banners read “Please Slow: Manatees Below,” and can be used to warn other boaters if a manatee is spotted in the area. Aluminum dock signs with a similar message are available for Florida shoreline property owners. Family-friendly “Buddy” manatee signs, designed to teach manatee manners, are available to state, municipal and county parks, marinas and other busy sites where human/manatee interaction can be a problem, resulting in manatee harassment.

Remember, it is always important to report a sick, injured or orphaned manatee to the FWC. Here’s how to recognize if something is wrong:

A manatee floating high in the water and unable to submerge may indicate it has a serious problem.

An adult manatee not resting or traveling rapidly should surface to breathe every 2-3 minutes.

Manatees entangled in crab traps or fishing line should be reported to the FWC — do not try to cut the entanglement.

A pink scar or open wound on a manatee needs to be reported.

Thrashing and splashing manatees are usually a mating herd and need their space, however a lone manatee that has beached itself should be reported to the FWC — do not push the manatee back into the water.

A small, lone manatee with no larger manatees around could be an orphan and the FWC should be called at 888-404-3992.

To view the club’s new video, “How to Report Distressed Manatees,” and get more information — including how to report manatees outside of Florida— go to savethemanatee.org/rescue.

“We greatly appreciate the help of the boating community to be extra vigilant on Florida’s waterways during the July Fourth holiday and every day,” says Patrick Rose, the club’s executive director and aquatic biologist. “The risks and threats to the manatee’s survival remain uncontrolled and accelerating, and we need everyone to be good stewards and help ensure that manatees continue to roam free for future generations to enjoy.”

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