Neature Talk: Manatees

May 12, 2021


Devon Miller

In the clear blue waters just off the coast of Florida, a rare creature deemed “sea cow” roams through the water. Manatees, who numbered just over 1,000 only 30 years ago, have slowly started growing in population in the last few decades. Currently, there are an estimated 13,000 manatees in the wild, meaning this creature is still in danger of extinction, although the population trend is on the rise. 

The cause of manatee population decline is, as always, humans. Fertilizer runoff and other water pollutants have caused algae blooms that, when ingested, are toxic to manatees. To add to this, manatees most often spend time in shallow water where sea grass grows, leaving them quite unprotected if a boat comes upon them. Normally a creature would dive down below the path of the boat, but due to preferred feeding locations being in shallow areas, manatees have nowhere to dive out of the way of an oncoming boat or ship. 

Luckily, some attempts have been made at helping protect these large and wrinkly sea dwelling friends. In Florida, boat captains are taught to watch for patterns on the top of the water made by a manatee’s tail movements when they are below the water. Florida has also deemed certain areas slow zones, meaning boats cannot surpass a certain speed limit, helping to avoid manatee collisions. Florida has also released a mobile phone app that can be used to help track manatee locations, and warn boaters when they are near a common manatee habitat. 

As always, the most valuable thing to manatee preservation is public awareness. Telling people about manatees and ways to keep them safe, has played a large role in the rising current population. What can we, in the landlocked midwest, do to help these ocean dwelling creatures? Limit your herbicide use, limit synthetic fertilizer use, and make sure you dispose of your waste responsibly.

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