Manatees are unquestionably one of the most fascinating and gentle creatures to grace the warm waters of Florida. These herbivores, renowned for their slow, deliberate movements, play a vital role in preserving the health and balance of their aquatic ecosystems. As Florida’s official state marine mammal, they are cherished symbols of the state’s natural beauty. However, to ensure the well-being of these gentle giants, practicing “Manatee Manners” is paramount, especially when kayaking or paddleboarding near their habitats.
The Weeki Wachee River, known for its crystal-clear, spring-fed flow, provides a perfect sanctuary for these gentle giants. Manatees, often called sea cows, are drawn to the river’s constant 74-degree Fahrenheit temperature, especially during the colder winter months when they seek warmth. Tourists and nature enthusiasts flock to the Weeki Wachee River to witness these captivating mammals in their natural habitat. The river not only offers a haven for manatees but also symbolizes the delicate balance between human enjoyment and wildlife conservation, making it a vital part of Florida’s ecological and cultural heritage.
In a collaborative effort involving the Save the Manatee Club and UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County, a dedicated team of volunteers known as “Manatee Awareness Through Educational Stewardship” is taking proactive steps to educate kayakers and paddleboarders about the importance of practicing Manatee Manners. These volunteers are passionate about manatees and are committed to promoting responsible and respectful interactions with these graceful creatures.
One of the key aspects of Manatee Manners is maintaining a safe distance from manatees. Keeping at least 50 feet away from these gentle giants in the water is recommended to avoid causing them stress or disruption. The slow, deliberate nature of manatees means they may not easily evade approaching watercraft, making it vital for humans to be vigilant and respectful of their space.
Last winter, the dedicated M.A.T.E.S. volunteers made a significant impact by educating over 600 paddlers about manatees and how to interact with them safely. Their efforts create awareness and foster responsible behavior among kayakers and paddleboarders.
The volunteers emphasize the importance of minimizing noise, avoiding sudden movements, and never attempting to feed or touch manatees. These practices respect manatees’ natural behavior and ensure their safety and protection, as laws and regulations protect them.
So, what are the dos and don’ts of manatee manners?
Dos of Kayaking and Paddleboarding Around Manatees
1. Maintain a Safe Distance: The most important aspect of Manatee Manners is keeping a respectful distance. It is recommended to stay at least 50 feet away from manatees in the water to avoid disturbing them or causing them stress.
2. Paddle Gently: Keep your paddling movements smooth and gentle. Avoid splashing, loud noises, or sudden movements that could startle manatees or disrupt their feeding or resting.
3. Stay on the Surface: Do not reach into the water or dive down to touch or interact with manatees. Laws protect these animals, and it’s illegal to approach, touch, or harass them in any way.
4. Be Vigilant: Manatees often surface to breathe, and they can be challenging to spot when they are underwater. Keep a close eye on your surroundings, and slow down or stop if you see manatees in your path.
Don’ts of Kayaking and Paddleboarding Around Manatees
1. Never Chase or Approach Closely: It’s essential to avoid chasing manatees or getting too close to them. Approaching too closely can cause them distress and disrupt their natural behavior.
2. Avoid Crowding: If you encounter a group of manatees, do not crowd them or surround them with kayaks. This can be intimidating for these gentle creatures and may lead to stress.
3. Do Not Feed Them: Feeding manatees is harmful to their health and illegal in many areas. Feeding them human food can lead to digestive issues and alter their natural feeding habits.
4. Do Not Throw Trash: Always dispose of your trash correctly, as litter can harm the manatees and their habitat. Ensure that your kayaking trip is eco-friendly and leave no trace.
5. Do Not Ignore Regulations: Pay attention to local rules and regulations regarding manatee encounters. These regulations are in place to protect both manatees and kayakers.
Implementing Manatee Manners when kayaking is a simple but essential practice for responsible and sustainable recreational activities. Let’s enjoy the beauty of nature while respecting and protecting the habitats and well-being of the manatees who call these waters home. The Weeki Wachee and its gentle manatee residents are a treasure that must be cherished and protected. Through the diligent work of dedicated volunteers, the message of Manatee Manners is spreading, enriching visitors’ experience, and helping safeguard the future of these remarkable marine mammals. Practicing these manners ensures that everyone can continue to enjoy the beauty of manatees while respecting their habitat and needs in the warm waters of Florida’s Weeki Wachee.