It’s hard to believe, but just 4 decades ago, the manatee population, with only a few hundred remaining, was in critical danger. Thanks to public awareness and protective measures, today’s Florida manatees are estimated at 6,620. Now removed from the endangered list, the incredible turnaround from the 1970’s serves as a daily reminder of the fragile fate of the gentle “sea cows”.
Manatee protection rules are established by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Here are some tips to help protect manatees while enjoying your time on the water:
- Be mindful of speed restrictions
- Use marked channels when boating – manatees may avoid heavy boat traffic
- Wear polarized sunglasses in order to see beneath the surface, check for “swirling”
- Be aware of what is in front of and near your boat
- Keep a lookout for wildlife, other boaters, dive flags, swimmers, other obstructions
Protecting manatees requires the contribution of government agencies and citizen boaters. In October of 1989, Florida’s Governor and Cabinet directed the state’s wildlife agency to work with 13 “key” manatee counties in Florida to reduce injuries and deaths. These 13 counties were: Brevard, Broward, Citrus, Collier, Dade, Duval, Indian River, Lee, Martin, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Sarasota, and Volusia.
As a result of this direction, each of the 13 counties developed a manatee protection plan (MPP). The county’s individual MPP was based upon criteria such as boat traffic and manatee travel patterns. Designated watch areas and speed restrictions were set in place according to the needs of the particular county.
Would you like to get up close and personal with the majestic manatees? Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River is hailed as one of the best viewing areas. Stated to have high concentrations year round (some reports say more than 100 at a time), the site, about 90 minutes north of Tampa, offers a great place for a day trip from South Florida.
Swim with Manatees
According to VisitFlorida.com, Crystal River is one of the only places in Florida where you’re legally permitted to swim with manatees in their natural habitat. You can embark on a swim tour through the river, but only after being briefed on all of the do’s and don’ts of interacting with the animals.
For more information on how you can help protect manatees, go to the Save the Manatee Website.