Florida Manatees Make Strong Recovery

Picture of Author: Rich Barnhart

Author: Rich Barnhart

Know Your Waterways and Manatee Protection Zones

Updated February 2024
As we’ve reported in previous posts, 2021 and 2022 were not good years for manatees. There were 1,100 statewide manatee deaths in 2021 (up from 637 in 2020), and 800 in 2022. The manatee’s primary source of food is seagrass and it is suspected that many manatees on the Atlantic Coast starved in recent years due to a limited supply of seagrass. This lowered supply of the manatee’s natural food source is due in part to nitrogen pollution. In order to stave off repeats of these tragic years, Florida officials provided supplemental feeding for the first time.

Good News! The good news is that mortality rates were down to a total of 556 deaths in 2023. This is a dramatic recovery and the lowest rate since 2017 when 538 deaths were reported. Of course watercraft still play a significant role with boaters accounting for 89 manatee deaths in 2023. Boaters, read more below to learn how to do your part.

Florida Manatee
Manatees frequently hover just below the surface where it is difficult to see them from a boat

In 2017 the Florida manatee was reclassified from an endangered to a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, but manatees still face the same threats as always and their future remains uncertain. The largest known cause for manatee deaths is still collision with watercraft and that problem is likely to increase as more people move to Florida and our waterways become more crowded. Understanding your local waterways and knowing the manatee protection zones is key to saving our official state marine mammal.

Always Be On The Lookout

Boaters should always be on the lookout for manatees, especially in protection zones during manatee season when manatees can be anywhere just below the surface. Their primary habitat in Broward County is within our inland waterways including the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and its connected rivers, bays and canals. However, it is not unusual to see manatees out in the ocean off Broward County beaches. Boaters are advised to wear polarized glasses and always be scanning for manatees, especially between November 15th and March 31st, which is manatee season in Broward County. If you boat in other parts of the state please check local protections zones and season dates since they vary throughout the state of Florida.

Manatee mom and baby
Wear polarized glasses and always be scanning for manatees on and below the surface of the water

Pay Attention to Waterway Signage

Our inland waterways in the Fort Lauderdale area are well marked, but you still need to pay attention to the waterway signage since it can change during manatee season. Some zones remain in place year round while others change from November 15th to March 31st. Since weekends and holidays from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM are the busiest times on the water some protection zones are more restricted during these times. See the Broward County maps below for Protection Areas in our coastal towns including Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Hillsboro Beach, Lighthouse Point and Deerfield Beach. Click here for more information on signs and tips for protecting manatees.

Manatee Boating Protection Zones
Manatee Season runs from November 15th to March 31st in Broward County, but some protection zones remain year round
Manatee Season Protection Zone
Pay attention to waterway signs that change during manatee season in Broward County

Northeast Broward County Manatee Protection Areas and Boating Restricted Areas

While boating restrictions on our inland waterways are in place year round, boaters need to pay close attention to our manatee protection and boating restricted areas during the winter months, specifically during manatee season from November 15th to March 31st. The map below shows slow and idle speed zones year round, as well as special slow speed zones during manatee season. Click the map image to view and download the entire Broward County map.

Manatee protection area map
Map of Fort Lauderdale manatee protection zones. Click the image to download the entire Broward County map.

Additional Resources

Blog Author:

Rich Barnhart

Rich is the broker and owner of By The Sea Realty and a frequent contributor to the company's real estate blog.

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