Manatee Appreciation Day was created to bring awareness about these quirky and adorable aquatic mammals who are also some of my favorite local residents. In Southwest Florida these humble giants, close relatives to the elephant, can be found in the Caloosahatchee river, in the ocean near the shores where water is brackish and hanging out in the Cape Coral canals.
Manatee Appreciation Day is devoted to raising awareness about these endangered creatures who are often fatally injured in collisions with boats. It’s important that we all do our part to ensure that these beautiful animals with whom we share our waterways are protected.
Here are 5 ways in which you can help save the manatees:
• Adopt a manatee. Adopt-A-Manatee is an initiative from Save the Manatee, a non-profit organization established in 1981 by Jimmy Buffet. Save the Manatee is dedicated to creating public awareness and education programs and to protecting the manatees and their habitat for future generations.
• Keep trash away from the water ways. There are simple things that we can all do to ensure that the manatees’ environment is preserved and it all starts with making sure that trash does not end up in our waterways so that it does not pollute their natural environment.
• Run for the Manatee. Join the Manatee 5K virtually from wherever you are. You can register at www.savethemanatee5k.com .
• Learn more about these gentle sea cows. On cool days you can see manatee herds come together at Manatee Park in search for warmer water generated by the Florida Power and Light discharge canal, located in Fort Myers. Manatee Park is a non-captive refuge for the endangered Florida manatee. You can join one of their daily free manatee programs and learn more about these gentle sea cows from volunteers who are knowledgeable and passionate about their conservation.
• Get a manatee license plate. You can help protect and preserve these gentle giants by buying a Save the Manatee license plate through the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Proceeds go to support manatee research and towards protection and education programs.
Tips to ensure that manatees are safe in our waterways:
We talked with Nancy Kilmartin from the Lee Parks and Recreation who has worked at Manatee Park for over 13 years and she shares some suggestions for boaters:
• Follow the speed limit. It’s important for boaters to be aware of manatee habitats and operate their boats respecting the speed limits and no-wake zones.
• Keep your distance. If you see manatees stay at a safe distance to avoid injuring them.
• Report injured manatees. If you see a manatee that is injured, orphaned or in distress report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s manatee hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC, *FWC on your cellular phone or VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.
• Wear polarized sunglasses, they will improve your visibility below the water so that you can spot manatees easier.
• Purchase a manatee decal for your boat through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission HERE . Proceeds go directly to fund manatee recovery initiatives.