Manatee safety highlighted as boating season begins

By Ashley Harding - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As the temperatures continue to go up, more people will be thinking about hitting the water.

It's a new boating season, and with that comes the concerns about protecting manatees.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and other local law enforcement officials are asking boaters to be observant and be careful on local waters.

"I've never met anyone who wanted to hurt a manatee," biologist Dr. Quinton White said. "You want to watch for those swirls, watch for the presence of manatees. Most likely you're going to see it in shallow waters in the area of grass beds."

Officials said watercraft were responsible for the deaths of four manatees in Jacksonville's waters last year. They said although they tend to stay near the shore, boaters could also find them in the middle of a channel.

That's why people need to be aware of manatee zones, clearly marked in orange and white. Plus, law enforcement is watching.

"Some of these law enforcement agency vessels are clearly marked and others are not, but you will see them as they approach you on the waters with their lights and sirens," said JSO Sgt. Patricia Grant.

Because manatees are endangered, officials said the best thing for anyone who sees one is to leave it alone.

"Don't do anything if you're on the water to attract them, like putting out fresh water or feeding them lettuce," White said. "That attracts manatees to people and that can lead to problems."

Above all, officials said boaters need to respect these creatures and understand they're wild animals.

"Enjoy the manatee, watch what's going on around you, be alert, pay attention and we'll all enjoy the water better," White said.

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