Fishing guide

Guide: How to Protect Manatees for Manatee Awareness Month


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November is not just a month for turkeys.

It is also a month to celebrate the manatee, the marine mammal of the state of Florida.

Manatee Awareness Month began in 1979 when former Florida Governor Bob Graham designated November for manatees, according to SaveTheManatee.org.

And this is happening at a special pivotal moment. Manatee deaths are at an all-time high, according to various reports.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced in mid-November that more than 1,000 manatees died in 2021, a number well above the previous record of 830 deaths reported in 2013.

One of the biggest contributors is famine, according to a Tampa Bay Times report, but human-related boating accidents are also detrimental to a manatee’s survival.

So here are some tips from the FWC on how to protect manatees, not only during Manatee Awareness Month in November, but throughout the year:

Pay attention to the signs

When you are boating, it is important to pay attention to road signs in the water and understand what they mean. There are four typical signs that are visible in manatee protection areas. They are:

  1. Idle zone: This protected area prohibits boats from going faster than necessary to ensure that they do not produce a wake.
  2. Slow speed zone: Boats should be completely out of plane and completely installed and level in the water while moving with minimal wake.
  3. Area closed to motor boats: Prohibited entry to motor boats or those operating with mechanical means of propulsion.
  4. No entry area: As the name suggests, no entry, which means no boating, swimming, wading, fishing or diving activities.

How to see wild manatees

So you are ready for kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming or any other type of aquatic activity in the many spots of Florida. How are you supposed to see manatees in the wild?

The FWC guide says to keep your distance to limit any disturbance. Remember, this is their home. Do not chase, chase, or disturb a manatee and wear polarized sunglasses to help you see them better in the water.

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06/22/21 — A young manatee frolic in a canal in the waters of Terra Ceia. The state of Florida wants to preserve 2,300 acres of environmentally sensitive mangrove swamps and flat forests in Terra Ceia. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

If you get too close, speak quietly and avoid loud noises to avoid disturbance, the FWC guide said.

Also, don’t separate a mother from her calf, and watch out for “whirling” when manatees dive. They make a large “imprint” on the surface of the water, said the FWC guide.

Do not feed

This is a good rule of thumb for any wildlife, but it’s a movement that can put manatees at risk.

Feeding or giving water to wild manatees can “alter their foraging behavior and attract them to areas where they can be injured,” the FWC guide said.

And never touch, remove, or damage tag units, which helps researchers monitor these specific manatees.

Tips for paddlers, snorkelers and divers

Paddlers should exercise caution near seagrass beds, sanctuaries, or the boundaries of refuge areas, as manatees frequent these areas.

The FWC guide advises you to “give manatees space to roam freely in their habitat, paddle to avoid traveling above resting manatees, as manatees must surface to breathe and will jump if you are on their way “.

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A pod of manatees swim in the waters alongside Anna Maria Island’s Rod & Reel Pier in this August 2018 file photo. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Once surprised, the manatees will flee the area as fast as they can, which could put them in danger.

If you’re diving, switch to snorkeling gear when you’re around manatees, as air bubbles from the snorkel gear can disturb them, the FWC guide said.

Know the seasons

Manatees love warm waters. So if you’re in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer months, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a manatee or two. In winter, it is less likely. At this time of year, the cooler water sends the manatees to the warmer spring water areas.

The time to spot manatees is April through October in the Gulf, when the water is warmest, according to VisitFlorida.com. From November to March, you will have to go to the springs which keep the water temperature constant all year round.

Other ways to help

Attending shoreline clean-up events, attending boating safety classes in person or online, and properly throwing fishing lines through recycling are all additional ways to protect manatees.

The transparent monofilament line, in particular, can entangle manatees and other marine animals such as sea turtles and birds.

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