One out of four manatee deaths caused by watercraft in Florida occur in Lee County, which surpassed its 2013 mortality count with two lethal strikes in September, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
There were 16 manatee deaths by boat strikes in Lee through Nov. 7, one more than in 2013 overall. Statewide there were 59 manatees killed by watercraft, according to FWC data. With 34 fatal boat strikes in 2014, Suncoast counties, including Citrus and Hernando (4 each), are the deadliest in the state for manatees.
"The FWC [is stressing] the importance of people’s actions,” said Carol Knox, head of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section. "Boaters slowing down and watching out for manatees can help."
The annual migration of sea cows from coastal areas to warmer, more stable waters in freshwater springs, canals and power-plant outflows begins in November. Seasonal manatee protection zones designated by the FWC go into effect Nov. 15.
In western Pinellas County, where two manatees were felled by boat strikes this year, the FWC is proposing new slow-speed zones in 21 waterways to reverse an apparent upward trend in lethal collisions with hulls and propellers. But federal officials are considering reclassifying manatees as threatened instead of endangered, a protection that dates to 1967.
The FWC hotline for manatees in distress is 888-404-3922.