November is Manatee Awareness Month – a time to celebrate Florida’s beloved, iconic, marine mammal and also to create awareness and shed light on the many challenges imperiled manatees face every day.
Manatee watercraft-related injuries and deaths continue to rise. It is the largest known cause of death from human activity and the greatest threat to their long-term survival. The boating public is urged to be on the alert for manatees since vessel operators are the only ones who can prevent strikes to manatees that often lead to serious injury or worse. Many seasonal manatee zones in Florida come into effect in November, and boaters should pay close attention to posted signage indicating slow or idle speeds. Waterway users should also keep their distance from migrating manatees or manatees congregated at warm-water sites during the winter to avoid possible harassment. The boating community can download the free Manatee Alert App for iPhones and iPads at http://bit.ly/15EYen6, which notifies boaters when they are approaching manatee speed zones and helps facilitate the reporting of injured manatees and harassment. Check out the videos, tips, and resources for boaters at savethemanatee.org/boatertips.
With winter approaching, manatees are also susceptible to cold stress. A severe, prolonged cold snap in Florida can be deadly to this subtropical species who cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Many manatees also die from red tide outbreaks. The protection and preservation of ample healthy aquatic habitat is essential to the well-being of the manatee population. The protection of Florida’s 700+ springs is not only vital to manatees, but to countless other wildlife species, and to humans. The health of a spring indicates the health of the underground aquifer, which supplies much of Florida with potable water.
“The best way to protect manatees is for the public to learn about their plight, and how protecting them is in all our best interests if we care about healthy aquatic ecosystems,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “Whether passively observing our waterways or actively engaged in water-related activities such as boating, fishing, or diving; we should understand our role as responsible stewards of manatees and their habitat, and how it can be beneficial to those things we hold dear.”
The public can be actively engaged in manatee and habitat protection during Manatee Awareness Month and throughout the year by obtaining the Club’s free waterway signage, boating banners and decals, waterway cards, and educational posters. The shoreline property signs warn boaters to slow down for manatees and feature the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s hotline number (1-888-404-3922) to report sick, injured, orphaned, or harassed manatees. The Club also produces family-friendly outdoor signs for state, municipal, and county parks, marinas, and other sites where human/manatee interactions are a problem. To obtain any of these free materials, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646) and request these resources.
Educators can request a free guide filled with classroom activities and interesting manatee facts. Save the Manatee Club also offers “Skype in the Classroom,” which explores manatee basics and the threats they face in their habitat today. Lessons are available for younger audiences through high school students. The Club is also able to align with science standards upon teacher request. Click the “Education Materials” link at savethemanatee.org/info.
The public is also encouraged to visit Save the Manatee Club’s Blue Spring webcams at ManaTV.org to see manatees in real time or on archived video. The webcams have become popular with viewers across the globe and have allowed the Club to monitor manatee behavior for research and health-related conditions. The site also features researcher Wayne Hartley’s daily blog on manatees visiting the spring. Hartley is the Club’s Manatee Specialist and a former Park Ranger at Blue Spring State Park. He has been researching the Blue Spring manatees since 1978.
Another way to help is by joining the Club’s real, living Adopt-A-Manatee® program year round. Each “adoptive parent” learns about the species by following the manatee they’ve chosen through adoption materials and follow-up newsletters the Club provides. To learn more, visit the adoption page of the web site at savethemanatee.org/adopt.
“Education and public awareness remain the key to savings manatee lives,” says Rose. “Working together and caring about the manatee’s welfare provides a better chance that these amazing animals will receive the help and protections they need – from all of us – for their long-term survival.”
Check out Save the Manatee Club’s website at savethemanatee.org to get involved.