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What You Can Do to Help Manatees

Tips for taking action for Florida’s beloved sea cow

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Manatee swimming free. photo by iStockphoto.

It’s hard to imagine Florida without manatees. Tourists flock to the state’s waters to watch and photograph the gentle, slow-moving sea cows, who often seem interested in their admirers. Some individuals are so familiar that they have distinct personalities and nicknames.

But there’s a darker side to people’s relationship with manatees. Coastal development has damaged their habitat and reduced access to the natural warm water springs the animals need to survive. Collisions with boats kill scores every year. Pollution-fed algae blooms known as red tides poison them and smother the sea grass beds that constitute their main food source. And boating rights groups have pressured the state and federal governments to slash protections.

Today, the very survival of this iconic species is under siege. Here’s what you can do to help change that.

  • Don’t let them be downlisted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering reducing critical protections for manatees by downgrading their status from endangered to threatened. Sign up to receive alerts for opportunities to take action on this and other animal protection issues.
  • Step up to the plate. If you’re a Florida motorist, purchase a "Save the Manatee" license plate through the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Proceeds go to manatee and environmental research, protection and education programs.
  • Join the club. The Save the Manatee Club supports research, education and conservation programs, promotes protective legislation and shares tips for responsible viewing.

Become a Manatee-Safe Boater

Collisions with boat propellers and hulls are a leading cause of manatee deaths. The animals don’t travel fast enough to avoid rapidly approaching boats, and they often linger just below the surface, making it difficult for inattentive boaters to spot them.

Boaters can help reduce the risk of hitting manatees by operating carefully in known manatee habitats:

  • Respect speed limits in manatee zones, designated areas throughout Florida in which boats are required to travel at minimum or no-wake speeds.
  • Stay in deep water channels; avoid boating over shallow sea grass beds, where manatees might be feeding or the grass can be destroyed.
  • If you’re operating a small powerboat, consider using a propeller guard, a metal cage that will help prevent strikes.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to help you see below the water’s surface.
  • Pay close attention to your surroundings. If you see a manatee when operating a powerboat, maintain a safe distance of at least 50 feet and cut your motor.
  • If you see an injured, dead, harassed, tagged or orphaned manatee, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on its manatee hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC, *FWC on your cellular phone or VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.
  • Donate to manatee protection by purchasing a decal when registering for a boating license.

Help Us Help Manatees

The HSUS is on the front lines working to protect manatees and other animals around the country. Donate here to support our efforts.

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