Defenders in Action: Collisions with Watercraft
Slow-moving manatees often cannot avoid the speed boats and other watercraft that frequent the Florida waterways they call home. As a result, propellers and boat hulls inflict serious or mortal wounds, and most manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails after surviving collisions with boats. Defenders is working to curtail this cause of death and make waterways safer for these unique marine mammals.
Watercraft-related incidents in 2009 caused the death of 97 individuals, the highest number on record. 2011 wasn’t very far behind—88 manatees were killed in collisions with boats over the course of the year, not to mention those that were seriously injured but went unrecorded. Population scientists believe that unless this cause of death is curtailed, the manatee population will not recover.
How We’re Helping
Since 2004, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has approved new manatee protection rules for three counties in Tampa Bay. The agency also reviewed and updated speed zones in Sarasota, Broward, Charlotte, Lee and Duval counties. In October 2005, the Hillsborough County Commission adopted mandatory manatee protection slow-speed zones in the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve that previously had been voluntary. Defenders of Wildlife worked to see these rules through, providing comments on how to make them effective devices to save manatee lives.
Also during this time—thanks in part to Defenders advocacy efforts—the National Park Service designated slow-speed zones to protect manatees in Everglades National Park.
Where We Are Today
Defenders continues to work to protect manatees from fast-moving boats. Our efforts today include public outreach and education programs, in which we inform boaters of ways to minimize the danger of hitting the often hard-to-see mammals. We also advocate for additional slow speed zones in areas that remain dangerous, such as Flagler County, and manatee refuges, such as in Kings Bay, Florida.