Law enforcement agencies from across Northeast Florida united Friday to announce enhanced enforcement efforts in manatee protection zones.
On the same day, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office handed out $93 tickets to boaters for disobeying speed laws in a manatee zone.
Data from Florida Fish and Wildlife shows one manatee has died because of a watercraft collision in Jacksonville so far in 2017. Statewide, 24 manatees have died because of watercraft collisions this year.
During the same time period last year, 34 had died as a result of watercraft.
“They look like a log or something floating, sometime you may only see their snout which could look like an old crab trap pot that’s floating in the waterway or a can or some trash,” Detective Ken Clements with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office said.
Earlier this year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the manatee from endangered to threatened. That reclassification is thanks in large part, they said, to enforcement efforts like this.
“Getting boater compliance with the protection zones has reduced or has kept the number of watercraft collisions with manatees at a level such that the population has expanded,” Jim Valade, Florida Manatee Recovery Coordinator with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said.
The larger population, however, means a greater likelihood of human interaction.
“Whenever you have more manatees you have the chance for more encounters between people and manatees and boats and manatees,” Jerry Pinto, with Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, said.
Pinto reminds the public it is illegal to feed manatees. He said if manatees become too domesticated it may hinder their ability to survive in the wild.