ORANGE CITY, Fla. — Last year was a record-setting year in Florida for manatee watercraft deaths. According to the Save the Manatee Club, 130 manatees were killed by boats last year.
Here are some do's and don'ts when it comes to boating with manatees:
Hot spots: According to researchers, Lee County had the highest number of manatee deaths in 2019 due to boats, with 25 manatees killed. Brevard County was close behind with 15, followed by Volusia County with 12.
Habitat loss: Researchers think habitat loss and seagrass loss could be partially to blame. “They are migrating into new areas that they might not be as familiar with, and boaters might not be as familiar with seeing manatees in those areas, which can then lead to more collisions between manatees and boaters,” Save the Manatee Club researcher Cora Berchem tells us.
Reasons for boat hits: Berchem thinks more boaters on the water and manatees being taken off the Endangered Species List are factors in the rise of manatee deaths.
Prevention: To prevent the record from being broken again in 2020, Berchem suggests that boaters drive slowly, wear polarized sunglasses, and look for manatee snouts and "footprints." “A 'footprint' is a circular pattern on the top of the water that the manatee will make when it swims, so if you see a 'footprint' or a manatee snout coming up for air, that is a good indication that there are manatees in the area,” Berchem says.
What to do: If you do accidentally strike a manatee while boating, or you see a sick or injured manatee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission urges you report it to its 24-hour hotline at 1-888-404-3922. FWC will dispatch someone out to the animal to help.