Free banners for boaters help with manatee safety

By Janice Nearing….

Tracy Colson displays one of the manatee banners.

As recreational boaters prepare to head to Florida’s waterways for the last holiday weekend blast of the summer, Save the Manatee Club sends out a reminder to exercise safe boating practices and to remain watchful for endangered manatees and other wildlife.

Manatees are slow moving, and because they are mammals, they need to surface to breathe air. They also prefer shallow waters where they feed on submerged sea grasses. These factors combine to make manatees vulnerable to boat hits, and many are injured or killed by the crushing impact of the hull and slashing blades of the propellers.

Boaters can be active participants in manatee protection by holding aloft Save the Manatee Club’s public awareness banner whenever a manatee is sighted in areas where boats are motoring close by. The bright yellow, 1.5- by 2-foot waterproof banner states: “Please Slow: Manatees Below.”  They are provided free to the boating public in Florida from the club.

Barbara Birdsey of the Pegasus Foundation came up with the banner idea years ago while boating in the Jupiter Inlet/Hobe Sound area and waving a homemade cardboard sign to slow down boaters traveling close to manatees she had spotted in the area. As a result, the more effective, attention-getting yellow banners were produced.

“The banners continue to be distributed across the state, thanks to the generosity of the Pegasus Foundation, and to the continued support of Mrs. Birdsey,” said Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and executive director of Save the Manatee Club.

“As more and more boaters use the banners to communicate with each other on the waterways when manatees are sighted, I believe we can better work together to help prevent manatee injuries, suffering, and death,” Birdsey said.

Even under the best conditions, manatees are often difficult to spot in the water. The club suggests wearing polarized sunglasses to eliminate the glare of the sun and help boaters to see below the water’s surface. Learn to recognize a manatee’s presence. Look for a swirl on the water’s surface and a manatee’s tail or nose.

Shoreline property signs and matching boat decals also are available from Save the Manatee Club. They encourage boaters to slow down and feature the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) hotline number (1-888-404-3922) for reporting injured manatees.

Requests for the free banners, signs, and decals can be sent via email to education@savethemanatee.org or by calling toll free at 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

Boaters are asked to observe all manatee speed zones and caution areas this Labor Day holiday weekend, and every day. Dr. Katie Tripp, the club’s director of Science and Conservation, urges the public to report manatee zone violations to the FWC by calling their hotline number.

“Calling in each and every violation that is observed is critical,” Tripp explained. “We can’t assume that our neighbor will make the call or that a law enforcement officer will see this violation.  Even if it’s not possible to make out the boat’s registration number, a description of the vessel, the locality where it was observed, the approximate time it was observed, and the direction in which it was traveling, can be useful information.

“There may not be an officer on the water to stop that vessel on that day, but officers do make note of violations that are reported and consider these when deciding where to patrol. Reporting these violations is an important way that the public can protect manatees from debilitating or fatal collisions with watercraft.”

Those who see an injured, dead, tagged or orphaned manatee, or a manatee who is being harassed, are asked to call the FWC hotline number at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on cellular phones, or use VHF Channel 16 on marine radios.

For more information on endangered manatees, the Adopt-A-Manatee program, or to sign up for the club’s free e-newsletter, visit the club’s website at www.savethemanatee.org. Look for “Manatee Protection Tips for Boaters” on the club’s website at www.savethemanatee.org/boatertips.htm.


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