The Florida Manatee is one of two subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Manatees are well represented in Florida’s fossil record. Their remains date back to prehistoric times and they are one of the more common vertebrae fossils known from ancient marine deposits. Manatee remains are also found in Native American rubbish heaps in Florida, sites that pre-date the arrival of the early Spaniards. The early colonists described how these natives hunted the manatee and were quick to appreciate the intristic value of the species.
In 1893, the state of Florida passed legislation that prohibited killing manatees. The West Indian manatee, including both Florida and Antillean sub species, was further protected in 1972 and 1973 with the passage of both the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, respectively. Florida allowed suit, further protecting the Florida manatee through state endangered species legislation and subsequently through the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act in 1978 As of 2010 the highest number of manatees counted in a statewide survey was 5,076.
Collisions with boat hulls and propellers of personal watercraft account for 25% of all manatee deaths since 1974. Manatees frequent shallow sea grass beds to graze leaving them vulnerable to boat strikes. Seasonal speed limits are posted in areas where manatees dwell searching for warmer waters and food and it is crucial to follow them. Responsible boating can also help to keep their habitat intact and protect their main food source. Sea grass is a dietary staple of Florida manatees and Green Sea Turtles. Due to the sensitive, interconnected root system of sea grass just one long drag of a boat propeller can cause a large area to die.
The Florida manatee is a significant part of the State’s natural, cultural, and historic heritage. By working together, we can ensure that manatees are a continuing part of our heritage and our future.