There’s no better way to spend a summer day in the Keys than on the boat. Crystal clear waters mixed with hot temperatures in the 90s and over give locals and visitors a perfect escape to the ocean.

From Key Largo to Key West, the island chain features sandbars, coral reefs, fishing spots and uninhabited islands that lure water and boating enthusiasts from all over. With more watercraft launching from ramps and marinas to the water means more calls and reports of injured marine life from hull and propeller strikes. 

For instance, sea turtles can swim at bursts of 25 miles per hour. They’re no match for oncoming boats that may not be paying close attention to their nearby environments. As The Turtle Hospital in Marathon notes, a propeller can easily cut through the shell and severe or damage the spine. It can lead to paralysis or death. 

Or, they are likely to become a bubble butt, which is caused by a boat hit while the turtle is breathing in air. Sudden shock or impact from a boat slamming on their shell forces air out of their lungs into their body cavity. Air is permanently trapped inside the body cavity. Over time, the shell distorts and a bubble forms on their “butt”, but it also causes these sea turtles to float permanently, which means they can not dive for food, escape predators or boat hits.

Manatees also fall subject — and in cases victim — to boating accidents. 2019 was a record year in the state of Florida in manatee deaths with more than 130 reported. Six of those were in the Keys. Approximately 25-30% of manatee deaths statewide are attributed to watercraft, according to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation.

In recent years, manatee deaths caused by blunt-force impacts (non-cutting) have outpaced manatee deaths caused by propeller cuts, with a small portion of the deaths/injuries attributed to both causes. The faster a boat goes, the more is applied to a strike. 

As boaters, pay attention to the effect you have on the environment since the water we all enjoy may be impacted by our actions. Every boater should learn and use safe boating practices that protect Florida’s waterways. What can you do? Here’s a few things to consider:

  • Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to be used by manatees or when observations indicate manatees might be present.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water, which will enable you to see manatees more easily.
  • Try to stay in deep-water channels whenever possible.
  • Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas. Manatees are often found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, lagoons, and coastal areas.
  • Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat.
  • Don’t discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees and other wildlife may ingest or become entangled in this debris and can become injured or even die.

For more information, visit myfwc.com

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