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Manatee Appreciation Day virtual event planned

By Staff | Mar 25, 2020

This Wednesday, March 25 is Manatee Appreciation Day. In Lee County, which saw the most manatee deaths in the state the last two years, this is a time when the Save Manatee Club hopes the public’s attention can be drawn to a mammal long on the endangered species list, and still considered threatened under the federal protection guidelines. The manatee is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act as well as the Marine Mammal Protection Act. As of February 2019, there were more than 5,000 manatees in Florida waters according to the Save the Manatee Club. There were also 606 manatee deaths recorded in Florida in 2019.

As of March 13, there were 180 manatee deaths recorded throughout state waters since Jan. 1 which puts the state on track to exceed last year’s death total.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit organization will be holding a virtual event on its website at www.savethemanatee.org as well as on its Facebook page www.facebook.com/SavetheManateeClub to educate the public about ways it can help the manatees as well as assist in Save the Manatee Club’s efforts.

The purpose of the event will be to educate the public about manatees, who face threats from boats and water pollution, said Save the Manatee Club Communications and Outreach Manager Ally Greco.

“Normally we would be doing in-person events at state parks (which have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic),” Greco said. The visual event will be educational and also serves as a fundraiser through the organization’s adopt-a-manatee program. The organization strives to keep track of manatees who regularly inhabit Blue Spring Park and Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club, used to run the state’s manatee protection programs. He said the effects of a speed zone change like Fort Myers Beach witnessed in its manatee zone in Estero Bay last year where a previous no-wake zone turned into a 25 mph speed zone from November through April due to actions by Lee County and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Commission (FWC), are even more dangerous than if there had never been a speed zone since manatees will adapt to environmental changes. By the previous no-wake zone changing to allow a faster speed limit, the area can become “much more dangerous” to manatees which tend to be found in shallow water, Rose said.

Currently, Town of Fort Myers Beach staff are working with the FWC to revert the speed limit back to a no-wake zone. Rose said that in Florida there are “legacy speed zones” which may not have kept up with state regulations, which he thinks happened in Fort Myers Beach. Lee County changed the speed after signs went missing following Hurricane Irma in 2017. Essentially, an audit of signs was done and it was alleged that the Estero Bay sign was out of compliance. Its removal led to outrage by residents on Bay Beach Lane and the Waterside Dock Association, who pushed for the town to act.

So far in 2020, Lee County has recorded 24 manatee deaths which is second to Brevard County (52) through March 13. Of the 24 deaths, 10 were considered natural related to a period in February where the water temperatures dropped during a stressful cold period for the manatees and other fish.

Of the deaths recorded so far, only one was in Fort Myers Beach – in Pelican Bay on Feb. 19. The others were largely in the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Sanibel and St. James City.

Last year, there were 144 deaths of manatees reported in Lee County which was 56 more than Brevard County. There were 72 manatees reported killed which were unrecovered, 26 confirmed killed by watercraft and 24 natural deaths.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends the following to avoid striking manatees:

– Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to be used by manatees

– Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare of the water, to spot manatees more easily

– Try to stay in deep-water channels whenever possible.

– Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas. Manatees are often found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, lagoons, and coastal areas.

– Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat.

– Don’t discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees and other wildlife may ingest or become entangled in this debris and can become injured or even die.

What should you do if you see a beached, injured or struggling manatee? The best way to help marine life is to call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922 to report stranded, injured, or dead marine mammals.