In Honor of Manatee Awareness Month

Sailors for the Sea Publishes Boating with Manatees as the Ocean Watch Essay for November 2013, offers practical advice on spotting and boating with endangered manatees to ensure their protection.

Newport, Rhode Island – November 20, 2013 – Sailors for the Sea, the only ocean conservation nonprofit focused on the sailing and boating community, today published Boating with Manatees.

November is “Manatee Awareness Month,” the time of year when manatees typically return to Florida’s warm water winter refuges. To educate people on the dangers threatening the endangered manatee, Professor Roger Reep, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, contributed this month’s Ocean Watch Essay.

The essay honors these gentle creatures by addressing the correlation between human population growth, increases in boat registrations throughout Florida, and the increases in manatee mortality from boat strikes (in 2008-2012 an average of 88 manatees per year died because of boat strikes).

According to Reep, “Human population and infrastructure growth in Florida have created the greatest challenges to the ability of humans to co-exist in harmony with Florida’s natural environment. With respect to manatees, the volume of motorized boat traffic that traverses much of manatees range – about 2,000 miles of complex coastline involving the Intracoastal Waterway, numerous rivers, creeks, canals, bays, lagoons, inlets, lakes, and coastal islands – has had deadly effects on Florida’s manatee population.”

Human Threats and Efforts to Protect Manatees

These calm herbivores spend most of their time eating, sleeping, and traveling slow rivers, canals, saltwater bays, estuaries, and coast waters. During the winter, they inhabit Florida waters and migrate in the summer as far north as Virginia and west to Texas. With a lifespan of about 60 years and no known natural enemies, many manatee deaths result from human activity.

Manatees often die or become ill after ingesting marine debris, and drown or are crushed in floodgates and canal locks. While their habitat – where they feed, rest, breed, and birth their young – continues to shrink under the pressure of commercial and residential property expansion, other human activities threatening manatee populations include:

  • Fishing nets and lines that can cause injuries that often lead to serious infections
  • Fatal gashes from boat strikes as manatees surface for air
  • Groundwater runoff, pollution and chemical introduction into manatee habitats that increase algal blooms, which can impair manatees’ immune systems

While efforts are underway to protect manatees through the implementation and enforcement of speed zones, these areas are a small fraction of the total navigable waterways used by Florida manatees, and the number of marine patrol officers needed to enforce all the regions is far greater than what is allocated currently.

“There are many suggestions as to how to best protect these majestic creatures, but I believe that through technology of the soul – learning to live more cooperatively with other species and the natural environment on whose health we all depend – we can solve the problem and help manatees thrive in abundance in Florida,” said Reep.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

There are steps all boaters can take immediately to protect manatees, including:

  • Obey posted speed limits
  • Dedicate a spotter on board to look for the presence of manatees – large shadows and circular wave patterns
  • Wear polarized sunglasses for better spotting
  • Observe manatees in their natural habitat in Crystal River, Florida by touring with company that conducts safe, responsible, non-stressful and considerate tours of manatee habitats
  • Join Save the Manatee Club to help preserve manatee health and habitat
  • Use non-toxic cleaning products on your boat, lawn, car and home to help reduce nitrates and phosphorus chemicals that contribute to the creation of harmful algal blooms

More about the Ocean Watch Essay Program
The Ocean Watch Essay program, a free online resource accessible through the Sailors for the Sea website, provides a constant stream of updated articles on current ocean issues such as ocean acidification, plastics, nonpoint source pollution, and invasive species. Each essay is accompanied by information on how individuals can make a difference in relation to the issue, creating a linkage from knowledge to personal action. Whenever possible, the program also provides information about activities, events, and opportunities, such as lectures, classes, and beach and ocean water clean ups, for people to take action to preserve, protect, and improve the health of the ocean and coastal waters. To see the entire library of Ocean Watch Essays visit: http://www.sailorsforthesea.org/resources/ocean-watch-essays.

About Sailors for the Sea
Founded in 2004, Sailors for the Sea is a nonprofit organization that educates and engages the boating community in the worldwide protection of the oceans. For more information on or to participate in any of the Sailors for the Sea programs, or to support the organization, visit www.sailorsforthesea.org.