Guest Commentary: Help make Florida a safer place for manatees

November is an annual celebration and a dedication to manatee conservation in Florida. As manatees seek warm water sites during the cooler winter season, residents, visitors, and the boating community are reminded to watch for manatees and help safeguard them as they freely move about Florida’s shallow, slow-moving rivers, bays, estuaries, and coastal water ecosystems.

Record watercraft mortality this year along with more than 180 manatees lost to red tide remain two of the greatest threats to the manatee population. Red tide acts as a neurotoxin in manatees, giving them seizures that can result in drowning without human intervention. Manatees may exhibit muscle twitches, lack of coordination, labored breathing, and an inability to maintain body orientation.

If rescued in time, most manatees can recover, so report a sick manatee immediately to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, or send a text message or email to Tip@MyFWC.com. Use VHF Channel 16 on a marine radio.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/FWC by Tim Donovan
As the weather cools, manatees are on the move, searching for warmer waters to survive the winter.

In total, 703 manatees have died so far this year from Jan. 1 through Oct. 12 from all causes. Cold stress during the winter months takes a toll on the manatees as they are a subtropical species and cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Other causes of human-related mortalities includes ingestion of litter, fish hooks, and monofilament line; entanglement in crab trap lines, and being crushed and/or drowned in canal locks and flood control structures.
Many seasonal manatee zones in Florida come into effect in November, and boaters are urged to pay close attention to posted signage indicating slow or idle speeds. Waterway users should also keep their distance from migrating manatees or manatees congregated at warm-water sites during the winter to avoid possible harassment.

Never separate a mother from her calf as calves depend on their mothers for up to two years.

Check out the videos, tips, and resources for boaters at savethemanatee.org/boatertips.

The public can be actively engaged in manatee and habitat protection by obtaining the club’s free waterway signage, boating banners and decals, waterway cards, and educational posters. The shoreline property signs warn boaters to slow down for manatees and feature the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s hotline number (1-888-404-3922) to report sick, injured, orphaned, or harassed manatees.

The club also produces family-friendly outdoor signs for state, municipal, and county parks, marinas, and other sites where human/manatee interactions are a problem. View the free public awareness resources at savethemanatee.org/freematerials.

To obtain any of these materials, email education@savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646) and request these resources.

The public is also encouraged to visit Save the Manatee Club’s Blue Spring webcams at ManaTV.org to see manatees in real time once manatee season is underway or on archived video.

The webcams have become popular with viewers across the globe and have allowed the club to monitor manatee behavior for research and health-related conditions.

The site also features researcher Wayne Hartley’s daily blog on manatees visiting the spring.

Hartley is the club’s manatee specialist and a former park ranger at Blue Spring State Park. He has been researching the Blue Spring manatees since 1978.

Another way to help is by joining the club’s Adopt-A-Manatee® program. Each “adoptive parent” learns about the species by following the real, living manatee they’ve chosen through adoption materials and follow-up newsletters the club provides. To learn more, visit the adoption page of the web site at savethemanatee.org/adopt.

Save the Manatee Club is an award-winning 501(c)(3) international nonprofit organization established in 1981 by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. The club’s mission is to protect manatees and their aquatic habitat for future generations.

To accomplish its mission, the club works closely with federal, state, and local governments, the media, and the public, and supports policies that are based on the best scientific data available.

The club raises public awareness; educates; sponsors research, rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts; supports land acquisition and aquatic habitat protection; advocates for improved on-the-water protection measures, and also supports education and conservation efforts in other countries.

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