Manatees in warm waterways put them at risk for boaters

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — As temperatures slowly climb in South Florida, wildlife conservation officials are urging caution on the water.

The Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resource Management is urging people to beware of manatees.

“I’ve seen a lot of manatees inland around the pier and people like to drive around Peanut Island so that’s where they hang out,” local diver Rayna O’Nan said.

As the weather warmed up, manatees seeking warmer waters began migrating, many of which got in the way of boats, she said.

“Unfortunately, whenever we see manatees, they do crash into boats, so that tells us it’s a problem, but they’re just hanging out so the thing to look for is that they’re right on the surface,” Onan said.

So far this year, nearly 800 manatees have died, 76 of them from boaters, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife.

“We really just want our boaters and the boating community to really understand any new or seasonal areas they might be going to, so we can do what we can to help the manatees,” said Captain Thomas Van Trees of the FWC.

Food shortages have also affected manatee populations, leading FWC officials to restart a program near Cape Canaveral last year that fed about 100 tons of lettuce to the manatees.

“We want to be strategic and get the most animals we can with the most food, and that’s where we want to be, and that’s where we are now,” said Ron Mezich of FWC’s Threatened Species Management Unit.

Nutrition-based issues have led to massive collapses of seagrass in the Indus River Lagoon, which is the manatee’s main food source, Mezich said.

“We’re all recovering seagrass in lagoons, and it’s still an ad hoc process of feeding wild populations, and we hope we can end it as soon as possible,” Mezic said.

FWC officials are urging people not to feed manatees and to call their hotline at 888-404-fwcc (3922) if you see an injured manatee