Warm-water habitats, like Florida’s springs, are critical to the survival of manatees during the winter because they can’t tolerate water temperatures lower than 68 degrees for extended periods of time.
November is Manatee Awareness Month, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding the public to slow down and look out for these large aquatic mammals. As cooler weather comes to the Sunshine State, manatees begin to migrate to warmer waters. During this time of year, many of Florida’s over 7,000 manatees will be on the move.
Warm-water habitats, like Florida’s springs, are critical to the survival of manatees during the winter because they can’t tolerate water temperatures lower than 68 degrees for extended periods of time. Remember, disturbing manatees at warm-water sites may cause them to leave those areas at a time when it is critical for them to remain there.
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"Manatees are more vulnerable in the winter months and it’s important not to disturb them, especially at warm-water sites," said Ron Mezich, who leads the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section. "Getting too close to manatees can cause them to leave these critical areas at a time when it is important for them to stay in warm water habitats."
Read more: Florida manatee deaths by watercraft rising at record pace
Boaters can make a big difference for manatees by following guidelines and obeying manatee protection zones marked by waterway signs. Maps of manatee protection zones in your area and information about cold weather seasonal zone changes are available online at MyFWC.com/Manatee by clicking on "Rules/Data and Maps."
How can you help manatees?
•Wear polarized sunglasses to spot them moving, grazing and resting in the water. Keep a lookout for the circular "footprints" or ripples they leave on the surface of the water.
•Follow posted manatee zones.
•Observe manatees from a distance to limit disturbance. Disturbing manatees at their warm-water sites may cause them to leave these areas during the winter.
•Report injured, entangled, orphaned or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on your cellphone or text Tip@MyFWC.com.
•Check out our guidelines for boaters and paddlers for more information about how to view manatees safely and respectfully.
•Purchase the manatee decal and license plate and tell everyone how the decal and license plate support the FWC’s manatee conservation efforts.
•Contribute to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida’s Marine Mammal Fund by visiting WildlifeFlorida.org and clicking on "Support Us," "Funding Priorities" and "Marine Mammal Fund."
You can show your support for manatees and spread awareness about the importance of warm-water habitat with a 2019 "Warm Water Saves Manatees" decal. These high-quality decals feature beautiful original art and look great on any boat, car or cooler. Get yours today by making a $5 donation at your local Tax Collector’s office.
For more information about manatees in Florida, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee.
This story originally published to starfl.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.