TAMPA, Fla. – Manatees are making a comeback. By dodging speedboats, that is.
Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that nearly 6,200 manatees were counted off the east and west coasts on Feb. 25.
This year’s count exceeds last year’s count, when the officials counted just over 6,000 manatees. Considering that the marine mammal is endangered, and their gestation periods last a whopping 13 months, officials are happy with the results.
2015 and 2016 are the only years on record where the Florida manatee population reached over 6,000. This is most likely because an estimated 30 percent of manatee deaths are unnatural.
Save the Manatee Club says that the leading causes of death for manatees are all human-related, starting off with watercraft collisions since the animals swim about three to seven feet below the surface.
Most commonly, a boat’s propellers may slash the manatee or crush it while docking. Manatees don’t move quickly, so when a speedboat is headed in the same direction, they can’t always get out of the way fast enough.
Manatees also often get crushed by floodgates and canal locks, which are used to control water levels in certain areas. They also get caught in monofilament lines, fishing nets and fishing hooks. Not to mention that despite the laws protecting them, they are sometimes illegally poached for their meat.
FWC says that in 2015, 388 dead manatees were documented statewide. It is estimated that 118 of those deaths were due to boating accidents.
“Humans are egocentric and selfish by nature, which has an impact on the other living things that we interact with,” says Michelle Bissett, an Ecological Sciences major and president of the Roots and Shoots club at WCSU. “Most people would rather continue participating in activities that endanger other living beings since they are fun.”
Though manatees are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, their lives are constantly at risk.
But the FWC has been working hard to ensure the safety of the mammals. In 2005, they pushed the Hillsborough County Commission to enforce slow-speed zones in parts of the water.
In 2012, speed zones were established in the Intracoastal Waterway in Flagler County and any speedster risks a $100 fine.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also improved protection areas for manatees at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Florida by establishing the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge, designating most of Kings Bay as a slow-speed area to help protect manatees from boaters.
In the area, activists sometimes go out on kayaks to hold up signs to passing boaters that read, “Please Slow, Manatees Below.”
“It is wonderful to hear that manatee population size is on the rise,” Bissett says. “Education and conservation efforts need to continue to be enacted not just with manatees, but with other species as well.”