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Lee County boaters cautioned about manatees leaving warm-water refuges in large numbers

By Staff | Mar 12, 2010

On Friday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) cautioned boaters in Lee County to be on the lookout for manatees moving from warm-water refuges into feeding areas.

Approximately 900 manatees have been counted during aerial surveys of Lee County this winter, mostly in the Orange River near the Florida Power and Light power plant in Fort Myers.

As the weather warms, large numbers of manatees will travel down the Caloosahatchee River to seagrass beds and other nearshore areas, including those in Matlacha Pass, Estero Bay and San Carlos Bay. Boaters should slow down and strictly obey posted speed restrictions in manatee protection zones.

“The greatest danger of boat strikes to manatees occurs when high concentrations of these mammals move out of warm-water refuges and head toward feeding areas. Boaters should use extreme care as this pattern develops,” said Capt. Denis Grealish, FWC law enforcement supervisor for Lee and Charlotte counties.

All member agencies of the Lee County Marine Law Enforcement Task Force and law enforcement agencies will be increasing patrols and strictly enforcing manatee protection zone speed limits to aid the animals during this period when they are most vulnerable to vessel strikes.

“To avoid striking manatees, vessel operators should wear polarized sunglasses to help them spot the creatures in the water, and watch for the large, tell-tale circular slicks on the surface of the water, which are called manatee footprints, and indicate the presence of manatees,” said FWC Officer JoAnne Adams.

If you would like more information on Florida’s manatees, visit MyFWC.com/Manatee or call the FWC’s regional office in Lakeland at 863-648-3200.

Additionally, Lee County manatee protection zone information is available online at www3.leegov.com/naturalresources/marine/AP_NM_Marine_T39_R2.htm. Federal manatee protection zone information is online at www.fws.gov/northflorida/Manatee/Documents/MPARules/index-federal-mpa-maps.htm.

To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).