As you enjoy our beautiful Tampa Bay and surrounding waters over the Fourth of July weekend, be mindful of boating speed zones to protect manatees. Although the manatee species’ status was changed from endangered to threatened in March of 2017, there was a record number of manatees killed in Florida by boaters in 2016, so it’s imperative to obey speed zones.
Manatee protection rules are established by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to restrict the speed and operation of vessels to protect manatees from being injured. Other tips for boaters from FWC include using marked channels when boating. Manatees have shown signs that they avoid heavy boat traffic areas. Wear polarized sunglasses while operating a boat to make it easier to see an object beneath the surface and the “swirling” that occurs when manatees dive. Give a proper lookout when boating to be aware of what is in front of or near your vessel. Always look out for wildlife, other boaters, dive flags, swimmers or other obstructions while on the water.
Today’s estimated population of 6,620 Florida manatees is a dramatic turnaround from the 1970s, when just a few hundred individuals remained, but it’s still crucial to obey speed zones to protect them from injury and death.
You can help make a difference by participating in coastal cleanup events and recycling monofilament fishing line. Tampa Bay Watch organizes three large-scale Coastal Cleanups per year and sees these projects as an important way to locally deal with an international problem. Cleaning up human-generated trash as well as marine debris that floats onto the shorelines from Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico protects wildlife from unnecessary injury or death. Fishing line can take over 500 years to decompose, so improper disposal continues to pose a threat to wildlife for a very long time. Tampa Bay Watch has 175 fishing line recycling stations or “monotubes” around Tampa Bay to encourage the proper disposal of line. In 2016, with the help of volunteers, 434 miles of line was collected and sent 93 pounds of line to Berkley Fishing Conservation Institute to be recycled into fishing equipment or artificial fish habitats.