How Can We Save Manatees From Boat Strikes?

Dear EarthTalk: I’m constantly hearing about manatees being hit and killed by speedboats. Why is this happening?

—Dee Laundry, Jackson, MS

Manatees, gentle herbivores that graze on aquatic plants in Florida’s coastal waters, evoke puppy love in the hearts of many human beings. They have inspired a popular Florida license plate as well as a considerable amount of tourism.

manatee boat
Credit: Matthew Bednarik, FlickrCC

But the qualities that endear people to these marine mammals also leave them vulnerable. They have no natural predators, are calm and slow moving, and make little effort to avoid people: either the ones with cameras or the ones on jet skis. “They like the coastal environment that’s also our favorite playground, and as a result, we clash,” Dr. David Murphy, a manatee veterinarian, told the New York Times. According to the Times, the number of Florida manatees killed in watercraft-related accidents has been steadily rising, along with the number of registered pleasure boats.

Wildlife advocacy groups have focused on the creation of slow boat speed areas in an effort to protect these creatures from lethal collisions. “There needs to be safe zones and we haven’t done enough to protect calving grounds,” says Sandra Clinger of the Save the Manatee Club. “The human population in Florida is expected to double in the next 30 years and most of those people want to locate along the coastline. That’s why it’s important to get protection methods in place,” she says.

CONTACT: Save the Manatee Club, (321) 385-9060, www.savethemanatee.org