Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 30, 2020


Sarah Gledhill, (904) 347-6490,

593 Florida Manatees Died in 2020, Including At Least 90 From Boat Strikes

Proposed Legislation Would Expand Requirements for Boater Safety Education

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Florida wildlife officials have proposed new boating safety education requirements after another year of accidents and collisions took a deadly toll on people and the state’s imperiled manatees. At least 593 Florida manatees died in 2020, including 90 from boat strikes, according to records obtained from state officials.

Florida has nearly 1 million registered boats, and thousands of out-of-state tourists rent boats in the state every year. But although more than two-thirds of boating accidents involve people at least 36 years old, current boater safety education requirements apply only to boaters under 32 years old.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has proposed legislation for consideration by state lawmakers in 2021 that would require boater safety education for anyone piloting a boat. The proposal, which was prompted by Florida’s high rate of boating-related deaths among people, would also help reduce the risk of boaters striking manatees.

If passed by the legislature, the new requirement would go into effect in 2023.

“This important boater safety legislation offers an essential tool for reducing the deaths of both people and manatees,” said Sarah Gledhill, Florida campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If all boaters learn the value of proper navigation as well as slowing down and being more cautious we can do a better job of keeping Florida’s waterways safer for everyone.”

In recent years manatee deaths have averaged between 400 and 500. Causes of manatee deaths include cold stress and toxic red tides. But about 20% of the deaths are attributed to boat strikes.

It’s likely that even more than 90 manatees were killed by boats in 2020 because the state stopped doing necropsies for two months during the first wave of COVID-19 cases last spring. As a result, in roughly a third of the nearly 600 known fatalities the carcasses were not necropsied so the cause of death was never determined.

Florida’s waters are also extremely dangerous for humans. According to an April 2020 state report, Florida leads the nation in boating-related deaths.

Sixty-eight percent of people involved in boating accidents were 36 or older, meaning they were not required to take Florida’s boater education course. And 80% of the boat operators involved in a fatal accident had no formal boater education at all.

Florida manatee/Flickr/USFWS/FPWC Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations