Spring is a particularly important season for boaters to go slow and lookout below for manatees as the slow-moving mammals naturally disperse from their winter refuges, traveling to other parts of the state and beyond. [Read more…] about Go slow and look out below – manatees are on the move
Look out for manatees when boating
Chances of close encounters between Florida manatees and boaters increase in the spring.
For manatees, it is the season when they leave their winter refuges and travel along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and through inland waters. For boaters, it is a critical time to be on the lookout for manatees to avoid colliding with these large aquatic mammals.
“Spring is a great time to go boating in Florida, but manatees are out there too. Please watch out for them,” said Ron Mezich, who heads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) manatee management program.
From 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 watercrafts. FWC law enforcement officers are on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take enforcement actions when appropriate.
Since manatees are difficult to detect when underwater, operators of boats and personal watercrafts can help by:
- Wearing polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
- Looking for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
- Looking for a snout sticking up out of the water.
- Following posted manatee zones while boating.
- Reporting an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dialing #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.
FWC biologists, managers and law enforcement staff work closely with partners to evaluate current data and identify necessary actions to protect this iconic animal. Florida has invested over $2 million annually for manatee conservation, and the FWC works toward continued success for manatees in our state.
Manatee zones and maps are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can select “Protection Zones” for links to county maps. Boaters can get tips from “A boater’s guide to living with Florida Manatees.” And if you want to see manatees in the wild or captivity, go to “Where are Florida’s Manatees?”
To support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue and management efforts, purchase a “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate at BuyaPlate.com, or donate $5 to receive an FWC manatee decal by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Decals.”
FWC monitoring sea turtles, manatees during cold weather
As Florida’s residents and visitors manage the current cold-weather conditions, the state’s unique and treasured fish and wildlife species may need some extra care as well. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is prepared and ready to prioritize this critical mission.
“We are committed to conserving our natural resources, and are staged and ready in strategic areas throughout the state,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. “Our team of FWC staff, partners and volunteers are monitoring the status of marine species affected most by the cold, and are prepared in case rescues are needed.”
Sea turtles are one species that can be affected by cold weather. When the water temperatures drop, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly in the water on or near shore. Although these turtles may appear to be dead, they are often still alive. It is important to report these turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline as soon as possible.
“Our staff, partners and permitted volunteers are already working to rescue sea turtles in northwest Florida. Nearly 100 turtles have been rescued so far. We are also monitoring the Mosquito Lagoon and other areas of the state to see if sea turtles are being impacted there,” said Kipp Frohlich, director of FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation.
The Florida manatee is another species that can be impacted by extreme cold weather. When water temperatures drop, manatees gather in warm-water habitats such as discharge canals at power plants and natural springs. The FWC asks that boaters be extra vigilant in watching for manatees in shallow waters near the coast, both inland and coastal, and obey all posted manatee speed zone signs.
“Boaters should avoid areas where large numbers of manatees are gathered,” said Gil McRae, head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “Aggregated animals should not be disturbed, as this could cause them to leave the warm-water sites that help them cope with cold temperatures.”
Sustaining adequate winter habitat for manatees remains a statewide conservation goal.
To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Extended periods of unusually cold weather can kill fish outright by cold stress or make fish more susceptible to disease. Warm-water species, including the popular game fish snook, are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures. Affected fish may appear lethargic and may be seen at the surface where the water may be warmer from the sun.
The FWC monitors fish disease and mortality events around the state. Report dead and dying fish to the FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.
All other distressed wildlife may be reported to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
For additional information on fish and wildlife research, visit MyFWC.com/Research.
Stick on a decal to show support for Florida’s manatees, sea turtles
There are more manatees and sea turtles in Florida than in any other state. More than 6,000 manatees swim in its coastal waters, rivers and freshwater springs, and thousands of sea turtles nest and hatch on its Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches.
It’s easy to show support for these iconic Florida species by sticking on a decal.
Every July the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) introduces new manatee and sea turtle decals available with a $5 donation.
The colorful, waterproof decals are designed to look great on a vehicle’s bumper or the side of a boat. Get them when registering or re-registering a vehicle or boat at local tax collectors’ offices across the state.
“Florida is home to more manatees and sea turtles than anywhere else in the U.S.,” said Carol Knox, who leads the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section. “Public support has been critical in helping us conserve these imperiled species. So please ‘stick on a decal’ and show support for our manatees and sea turtles.”
Decals generate funding for research, rescue and management efforts that help Florida’s manatees and sea turtles survive. For instance, when someone calls the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) to report an injured, entangled or sick manatee or sea turtle, FWC staff responds with efforts to rescue and rehabilitate the animal.
The decals also address important conservation issues:
- “Look out for manatees” is the message on the new manatee decal, which shows boaters in the distance as a manatee mother and calf swim along with only her back above water. When boating or using a personal watercraft in Florida waters, it is important to look out for manatees. Mature manatees grow to 1,000 pounds or more, but can be difficult to see when they’re swimming, grazing or resting underwater. Wear polarized sunglasses, and then watch and listen carefully to detect the signs of manatees nearby. Look for circles on the water’s surface indicating their underwater movement and snouts sticking out of the water as they surface to breathe. You may also hear huffing noises when they come up for air.
- “Helping sea turtles survive” is the message on the new sea turtle decal, which shows a green sea turtle. Green sea turtles nest on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches, and until recently were classified as endangered. Now after years of conservation efforts, the number of nesting green turtles has increased substantially. This species has been reclassified as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. That’s a major step in “green” recovery. Remember, “Hands off” is the best policy for beachgoers encountering any species of nesting or hatchling sea turtles. Watch from a distance, do not disturb them and never use a cellphone or camera to shoot flash photos.
Learn about other ways to help conserve manatees and sea turtles at MyFWC.com/Manatee and MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle, where you also can click on “Decals” to order new or past editions of decals. Go to BuyaPlate.com to purchase a “Save the Manatee” or “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” license plate that supports those species.