It is that time of year again! Manatee slow speed zones are in effect. While this may seem frivolous or inconvenient to some, it is important to abide by these speed restrictions between October 1 and April 30 each year.
Florida manatees are slow-moving marine mammals found in shallow, coastal waters and rivers. They spend large portions of their day munching on aquatic vegetation, such as seagrass, and frequently surface to breathe air through their nostrils.
Throughout most of the year, manatees travel around Florida in search of food, mates, and places to rest. Often times, they do not travel together, but they will socialize with other manatees when encountered. During the winter months, however, these warm-blooded mammals will move further inshore in search of warmer waters. Manatees have a low metabolic rate, which forces them to find water that is 60° Fahrenheit or warmer to survive. This makes the year-round 74° Fahrenheit Weeki Wachee River an ideal location to wait out the winter months. Unfortunately, this transition to inshore and freshwater habitats makes manatees more vulnerable to boat collisions and human interactions.
Besides speed zones, there are many ways in which you can help protect these threatened species all year round.
1. Participate in a coastal cleanup. Picking up marine debris helps prevent manatees and other wildlife from becoming entangled. Volunteers collected 40 bags of trash along Florida’s Adventure Coast during the 2017 Coastal Cleanup!
2. Recycle your monofilament. Throughout the Adventure Coast, you will find monofilament recycling tubes conveniently placed at favorite fishing spots and boat ramps. These tubes are emptied regularly by citizen-scientists and the monofilament recycled to make other plastic products.
3. Be aware of waterways, speed zones, and shallow areas. Manatees feed on the seagrass in shallow areas and are quite buoyant. Although they are capable of short bursts of speed, manatees swim an average of three to five miles per hour making it difficult for them to escape boaters.
4. Give manatees space. Even though manatees might seem friendly, petting or harassing them is illegal because it can change their behavior. Manatees are listed as a threatened species and are legally protected.
5. Always report injured, orphaned, entangled, or distressed manatees. FWC has a 24-hour rescue hotline: 888-404-FWCC. After Hurricane Irma, local residents reported a distressed manatee. A group of scientists and volunteers were able to successfully rescue and release her back into deeper waters.
Deutsch, C.J., M. E. Barlas. 2016. Manatee response to the conversion of the FPL Cape Canaveral power plant: Movements, warm-water habitat use, and thermal regime of satellite-tagged manatees during winters 2010-11 through 2014-15. FWC/FWRI file F2864-10-15-F. 113pp.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: http://www.myfwc.com/research/manatee/information/
Reinert, T.R., A.C. Spellman, B.L. Bassett. 2017. Entanglement in and ingestion of fishing gear and other marine debris by Florida manatees, 1993 to 2012. Endangered Species Research 32: 415-427.