Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 30, 2022

Contact:

Ragan Whitlock, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 426-3653, Rwhitlock@biologicaldiversity.org
Abbey Tyrna, Suncoast Waterkeeper, (239) 222-2443, executivedirector@suncoastwaterkeeper.org

Florida Strengthens Manatee Protections in Boater Safety Courses

New Rules Seek to Protect Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles

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 boater safety course,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Center for Biological Diversity 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 to manatees and other wildlife, the wildlife commission’s previous requirements for boater safety courses did not include 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 and 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 of the Florida Boating Safety Act of 2022, which aims to improve safety for people and wildlife.

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

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

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Florida manatee. Please credit: Allison Burkhard/Allison Burkhard Wildlife Photography. 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.

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