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Florida’s boating test gets update, will soon include questions on manatee, sea turtle safety

Manatee Allison.jpg
Allison Burkhard
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Allison Burkhard Wildlife Photography
On average, more than 100 manatees are killed by boaters in Florida every year, and the state just passed 1 million registered boats this year, a record number of vessels on the water in the Sunshine State

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will add questions to its boater safety course about rules designed to protect manatees, sea turtles and other marine life at risk of injury from watercraft.

During the 10-year period ending in 2021, nearly nine of 10 manatee deaths in Florida caused by people and not environmental factors were collisions with boats and other watercraft. Most often, it’s a spinning prop that creates fatal gashes along the manatee that results in the animal’s death.

“Southwest Florida is a cluster for boating activity and a hotbed for manatees as well, and manatees are hemorrhaging population numbers right now so anything we can do to help them out is a step in the right direction,” said Ragan Whitlock, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This will help Florida boaters understand where these imperiled animals gather and how to avoid crashing into them.”

Nearly 2,000 manatees have died of all causes during the past two years, 1,101 in 2021 and 745 as of about two weeks ago, according to the FWC.

Top causes include starvation due to pollution and habitat loss destroying huge areas of seagrass vegetation they rely on for food, getting tangled in fishing gear, human harassment, exposure to red tide and other harmful algal blooms, and elements related to a warming planet.

In order to operate a motorboat of 10 horsepower or greater, Florida law requires anyone who was born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, to successfully complete an approved boating safety course. Whitlock said he expects the FWC will have the questions on the test early next year.

On average, more than 100 manatees are killed by boaters in Florida every year. And the state just passed 1 million registered boats this year, a record number of vessels on the water in the Sunshine State.

The new test section will include questions about slow-speed zones, which are numerous along the Intracoastal Waterway around Florida, especially where the popular water highway runs through an area that isn’t very wide between the mainland and a spoil or barrier island. Other manatee zones, such as some lagoons, prohibit all boats except for those whose homes are located along the water.

“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.”

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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