ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The latest numbers released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show that over 100 manatees have been killed in watercraft-related incidents so far in 2019.
According to FWC, 101 manatees were killed in watercraft collisions as of Aug. 9.
Eighteen of those fatalities were in the Tampa Bay area, including a manatee killed by a watercraft on the Weeki Wachee River on July 30.
According to FWC numbers, 123 manatees were killed by watercraft in all of 2018.
It’s an issue the Tampa Bay Estuary Program has been following closely as well.
“Since 1998 actually we’ve been facilitating the Manatee Awareness Coalition,” said Communication and Outreach Coordinator Joe Whalen. “That’s kind of a super group of different environmental people and people with environmental interests that come together to watch after manatee efforts.”
He said the Coalition, or the MAC, has been responsible for things like manatee-friendly boater kits for its members, packed full of information.
Whalen said the MAC may re-form as a direct result of this year’s steep increase in watercraft-related deaths.
“Due to the increase in manatee strikes and deaths of as a result of boating incidents, the MAC has been considering ways in which they might be able to re-engage their members and how they might be able to best engage with the community as well to tackle the problem head-on,” he said.
Last month, FWC began enhancing boat patrols, announcing they are “increasing patrols in strategic areas of the state to enhance manatee conservation and public safety.”
A representative for FWC told 8 On Your Side, “we strategically assign officers statewide depending upon what is going on during a given weekend, season, etc.”
Personally, Whalen thinks the issue comes down to Florida’s increase in the manatee population in general, as well as an increase in active boaters.
“And also one could argue that having being taken off the endangered species list in 2017, behavior might have changed and attitude of boaters might have changed with regard to how diligent they need to be with their boating practices,” Whalen said.
A total of 369 manatees have died overall this year.
To report an injured or distressed manatee, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC.