JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Manatees are injured or killed ever year by boaters who aren't paying attention, authorities say. And law enforcement agencies anticipate even more boats will hit the water this boating season, putting marine animals at risk.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is joining with other local agencies to increase marine details to help protect the endangered species.
With 125 square miles of waterway in Jacksonville, you're bound to sail upon a manatee or two and not even know it.
"No matter how large or small your vessel is, you can do damage, you can harm the animal, you can injure the animal, you can change their habitats and you can even kill the animal with your vessel," JSO Officer P.T. Williams said.
There were four boat-related manatee deaths in Jacksonville in 2013. Last year, there were none.
"Not having any manatee deaths this past year is a big step for us in Jacksonville," Williams said.
Officers, who credit the manatee enforcement campaign and want to keep a clean record, are urging boaters to pay attention to speed limits and to be on high alert when traveling through manatee zones, which are marked with buoys and signs.
Because manatees are an endangered species, there are laws in place to protect them.
"It is illegal to feed or water manatees or to change their behavior in any way, which is considered harassment," said Nadia Gordon of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Interfering with the sea cows could cost you.
"Federal fines range from $125 to $25,000 and/or six months imprisonment under the Endangered Species Act," said Officer Patricia Grant of the JSO Marine Unit.
Authorities say that if you're out boating and you spot an injured or dead manatee, it's important to contact the FWC immediately. The FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline is 1-888-404-FWCC, ext. 7. A dispatcher will connect you to a biologist.