Florida Strengthens Manatee Protections in Boater Safety Courses – Center for Biological Diversity

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In response to a petition from conservation organizations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted today to amend its boater safety course to protect imperiled manatees and other marine life.

The commission voted to include information about manatee protection zones, other areas where boating is prohibited or speed is regulated, and awareness of wildlife including manatees, whales, dolphins, marine turtles and sturgeon. Manatee protections include “slow zones” and “no entry zones” for boaters to reduce collisions in areas where manatees are known to congregate.

“I’m thrilled that the commission voted to better protect manatees and other beloved marine animals through the particular boater safety course, ” said Ragan Whitlock, a Center for Biological Variety staff attorney. “This will help Florida boaters understand where these imperiled animals gather and how to avoid crashing into them. ”

Boat crashes are one of the leading threats to Florida manatees. From 2010 to 2021, watercraft strikes accounted for 87% of human-caused manatee deaths in Florida. On average, more than 100 manatees are killed by boaters in Florida every year.

Despite unsafe boating’s clear threat in order to manatees and other wildlife, the wildlife commission’s previous requirements for boater safety courses did not consist of specific topics relating to manatees and other coastal wildlife and sensitive habitats.

“We commend FWC for taking this positive step, ” said Abbey Tyrna, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “We hope the new course will reduce the number of wildlife-boat collisions and increase respect for the homes of aquatic animals across the state. ”

In August the Center, Florida Springs Council plus Suncoast Waterkeeper petitioned the commission to require boater education courses to include information and test questions about manatees, other marine mammals, sea turtles and critical wildlife areas. The petition followed passage associated with the Florida Boating Safety Act of 2022, which aims to improve security for people and animals.

The commission’s revisions do not specifically address critical wildlife areas but do require education about locations where boating is prohibited or speed will be regulated.

Fl now has more than 1 million registered boats plus the number steadily increases every year. As the particular number of boats rises, interactions between wildlife and vessels are expected to increase. Boater education is proven in order to increase awareness and protection.

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