Go slow, look out below: Here’s how Floridians can help keep manatees safe

As waters warm up, manatees are on the move in the Florida waterways.

With that in mind, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking Florida residents and visitors to help keep manatees safe, especially while out on the water.


FWC officials say manatees are now leaving their winter refuges and are more likely to be in rivers, canals and nearshore waters. That means it’s crucial for Florida boaters to stay alert and avoid manatees while traveling through Florida’s waterways.

From April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being injured or killed by motorboats or personal watercrafts.

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FWC law enforcement officers are on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take enforcement actions.

Manatees can be difficult to detect when they are underwater, so it is important for operators of boats and personal watercrafts to be vigilant. You can help protect manatees by following these simple guidelines:

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  • Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
  • Avoid boating in shallow areas where manatees graze on seagrass.
  • Look for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
  • Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.
  • Follow posted manatee zones while boating.
  • Never push a stranded manatee back into the water.
  • Report injured, distressed, sick or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by dialing #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone so trained responders can assist.

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“We’re asking the public to be exceptionally vigilant watching for manatees when out on the water, as the FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to respond to a high level of manatee deaths along Florida’s east coast,” said Michelle Pasawicz, manatee management program lead for the FWC. “By obeying speed zones, wearing polarized glasses and keeping a watchful eye on the water, you can make an immediate difference in manatee conservation.”

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Resources for boaters, educators and other interested members of the public are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee. Click the page’s “Information & Guidelines” tab for helpful tips on respectfully viewing manatees, additional guidelines for boat and personal watercraft operators, and information on what you can do to help these amazing aquatic mammals.

Photos: Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.