As the summer boating season begins, some boaters are stepping up to protect the gentle manatees from harm
The typical American moves about 12 times during their lifetime, and the state of Florida alone sees 1,000 new residents arrive every single day. But when the official state marine mammal starts to move around during this time of year, Floridians need to pay attention.
That’s because as spring turns into summer and water temperatures start to rise, Florida’s magnificent sea cows begin to migrate to the coastal areas of Southwest Florida. These gentle creatures spend the summer grazing on seagrass and keeping an eye out for new mates.
Michelle Kerr from the Florida Wildlife Research Institute explained to The News-Press, “During mating season you may see what’s called a mating herd, and that’s a group of manatees and most likely there are multiple males trying to mate with one female.”
These activities are totally normal, but boaters and curious onlookers should stay away. These gentle giants are particularly vulnerable to injury from boat propellers, but their 3,500 pound weight does pose a danger to humans, too. As a rule, people should keep their distance.
“It’s illegal to touch a manatee, so look but don’t touch,” Kerr added. “Never feed a manatee or give them water. Do no chase a manatee and definitely give a herd or a manatee a lot of space because they are big, heavy, powerful animals.”
More often than not, though, humans are the ones harming manatees. In fact, according to the Save the Manatee Club, 2016 was the deadliest year on record for these sweet creatures. Habitat destruction and algae can do a lot of harm, but water-based recreation tends to cause the most injury.
“2016 was the worst year on record in terms of manatee deaths from watercrafts,” said Cora Berchem, multimedia specialist for the Club, to C and G News. “We surpassed 100 manatee deaths [last year] as a result of watercraft. And with the growing Florida population and more people using the water, this is becoming more of a threat.”
Conservation efforts can play a huge role in species preservation. Despite SeaWorld’s wealth of bad press in recent years, their Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation program helps sick, injured, and orphaned manatees. Recently, students from the EcoClub and Orlando’s Millennia Gardens Elementary School donated more than 1,000 heads of lettuce they’d grown in their hydroponic garden to those voracious vegans being nursed to health by SeaWorld.
Hydroponic gardening practices can increase plant growth rate by 50% when compared to soil-grown planting. Using this method, these third, fourth, and fifth graders were able to develop, plant, and harvest produce for the sea cows’ consumption. The group of students was finally able to visit the manatees they’ve helped and see how their efforts made a difference.
“To be able to see this age group get so excited about what they did to help the small amount of manatees we have here, just gives me a lot of optimism for the future,” said Jon Peterson, animal-care supervisor at SeaWorld Orlando, to the Orlando Sentinel.
For the planet’s wildlife to thrive, conservationists stress the importance of human involvement. Given the current political climate, the dedication younger generations feel for these causes might hold the key.
Image Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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