Manatees are beautiful and majestic marine mammals that migrate from Florida during the winter up to Virginia and Texas during the summer. These calm creatures can inhabit rivers, canals and coastal areas and spend most of their time eating and sleeping – sounds like a pretty good life, right? Although the manatee has a lifespan of 60 years and no natural enemies, they have faced extinction in recent decades due to human threats.
Unfortunately, human activities such as hunting, fishing and even boating can cause injuries to manatees which may lead to death. To protect this peaceful species, Florida was declared a manatee sanctuary was back in the 19th century. What started as a fine and jail time for those who acted in a way that endangered the manatee evolved into a stronger effort to protect the entire species.
In 1966, the manatee was added to the original list of species protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act put forth by Congress. Throughout the 1970s, many more organizations stepped up to protect the species, including the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Sirenia Project and the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Program, all of which led to the regulation of boat speeds in areas highly populated by manatees to lessen injuries to the animals.
With enthusiasm to protect these jowly creatures came Manatee Appreciation Day. Celebrated on the last Wednesday in March, Manatee Appreciation Day is dedicated to raising awareness about this delicate species. Although many safeguards have been put into place by the government and protection organizations to prevent the death and injury of these creatures, manatees continue to be poached illegally and hurt by careless boaters.
In addition to the national celebration of Manatee Appreciation Day, Florida has dedicated November as Manatee Awareness Month. Even though there is still much to be done to protect the manatee, a significant improvement in the population and habitat conditions led the U.S. to downgrade the manatee from an endangered to a threatened species in January 2016.
At Woody’s Watersports we enthusiastically promote both Manatee Appreciation Day, which is March 30 this year, and Manatee Appreciation Month, and encourage all of our renters to act safely when on the water to help keep the health of these majestic animals strong. Locally, our renters see manatees from time to time, especially in the summer months in intracoastal waters as well as in the area around John’s Pass. In winter months, manatees are a common sight at nearby Apollo Beach, where the Tampa Electric Co. power plant returns warm water to Tampa Bay. TECO also offers an observation area at Apollo Beach – learn more about the Manatee Viewing Center on the company’s website.
To learn even more about manatee conservation efforts, visit the Wetland and Aquatic Research Center’s Sirenia Project’s website or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Program’s website.