81 Florida manatees have been killed from the beginning of this year through June 21 by watercrafts in Sunshine State waters, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. During the same time frame in 2018, watercraft caused the deaths of 59 manatees. At that rate, the number of manatee deaths caused by watercraft could hit an all-time high this year, officials say.
Wildlife experts have attributed toxic red tide algae and a cold snap to the deadly 2018 experienced by manatees, but so far this year, it's boats that are towing most of the blame.
From the beginning of this year through June 21, 81 manatees have been killed by watercraft in Florida's waters, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. During the same time frame in 2018, watercraft caused the deaths of 59 manatees.
At that rate, the number of manatee deaths caused by watercraft could hit an all-time high this year, officials say.
The reason for the increase is likely a combination of factors, said Cora Berchem, research and multimedia specialist for the Save the Manatee Club, headquartered in Maitland.
Berchem said she believes one of the factors is manatees being downlisted from endangered to threatened, which may cause people to think it's safe to exhibit less caution while operating watercraft.
"That's not the case," Berchem said Monday. "If we have more manatees, we also have more to protect."
A recovering economy also puts more people in the position to be able to go boating at their leisure, Berchem said.
This year a total of 300 manatees have been reported dead in Florida from Jan. 1 through June 21, according to the FWC.
There's an increase in boating activity during the summer, and not all watercraft operators have experience navigating a particular area's waters. The impact of a boat's hull and the slashing of propellers can injure or kill Florida's official marine mammal, according to Save the Manatee Club.
Manatees, which swim very slow, reside in shallow waters, Diana Ngai, club spokeswoman, said in a news release. Manatees are more susceptible to suffering injuries from a watercraft due to their need to surface for air.
The club has free, waterproof banners for boaters and aluminum signs for Florida property owners with shoreline to raise awareness of manatees and their vulnerability to boats. There also are additional free materials and resources on the club's website on how to boat safely around manatees.
To report sightings of tagged manatees or manatees that are sick, injured, dead or orphaned, call FWC toll-free at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).
This story originally published to theledger.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.