News Releases

Take extra care on waterways as manatees migrate after a rough winter

News Release

Monday, March 22, 2010

Media contact: Patricia Behnke, 850-251-2130

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) urges boaters to follow posted speed zones and watch for manatees as temperatures warm. Manatees are moving from warm-water sites to coastal areas, where they forage for food and rest and care for their young.

The FWC requests that people take special care to avoid coming close to these marine mammals that are already stressed because of the prolonged cold winter. The migration of manatees occurs at the same time that the boating season heats up in Florida, with spring break bringing thousands of boaters to the state's waterways. With the warmer temperatures, manatees will be even more vulnerable as they migrate and forage in the same waterways shared by many boaters along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

"The greatest danger of boat strikes to manatees occurs when high concentrations of these mammals move out of warm-water refuges and head toward feeding areas. Boaters should use extreme care as this pattern develops," said Kipp Frohlich, leader of the FWC's Imperiled Species Management Section.

The FWC has been carefully following manatee movements, and researchers have provided regular updates to management and law enforcement regarding the location and movement of manatees. The FWC's Division of Law Enforcement uses the information to direct patrols in the areas of concern.

"Boaters can help manatees have a safe migration by staying in marked channels, wearing polarized sunglasses to improve vision, and obeying posted boat speed zones," Frohlich said. "Boaters also should scan the water near or in front of the boat, looking for swirls resembling a large footprint, a repetitive line of half-moon swirls, a mud trail or a snout or fluke breaking the water's surface."

During warm weather, some waterways will have more restrictive waterway speed zones. Boaters in Citrus, Hillsborough, Lee, Pinellas and Volusia counties should be aware of speed zone changes in a few manatee habitat locations.

For more information about manatees, visit You can help manatees by purchasing a "Save the Manatee" license plate. Funds raised from the manatee license plate help fund ongoing research and conservation. For more information, go to The public should call the FWC's Wildlife Alert hotline, 888-404-FWCC (3922) to report any dead or distressed manatees.

The following speed zones are now more restrictive ("Slow speed"):

Citrus County

March 1 to Aug. 31 - A portion of the Withlacoochee River and a portion of the channel in the Gulf leading to the Withlacoochee River and Bennetts Creek/East Pass

April 1 to Aug. 31 - A portion of the Chassahowitzka River

Hillsborough County

April 1 to Nov. 15 - A portion of Old Tampa Bay, north of Courtney Campbell Causeway (State Road 60)

Lee County

April 1 to Nov. 15

  • Portions of Pine Island Sound, which includes Pelican Bay and the eastern side of Captiva from Redfish Pass to the south end of Buck Key;
  • the areas from St. James City wrapping around the western end of York Island to north of Galt Island; and
  • all of Hurricane Bay and most of Estero and Big Hickory bays, except for the marked channels and other speed zone areas.

Pinellas County

April 1 to Nov. 15 - Portions of Old Tampa Bay and Safety Harbor

Volusia County

April 1 to Aug. 31 - Portions of the Tomoka River and Spruce Creek

Winter-season speed zones in the following areas are still in effect during April:

Citrus County (until April 30)

  • Idle speed or slow speed - portions of Kings Bay
  • Slow speed - portions of the Homosassa River between the Salt River and Trade Winds Marina and the southern portion of Halls River
  • Slow speed - all waters near the Florida Power Corporation discharge canal

Dade County (until April 30)

  • No entry - portions of the Biscayne Canal, Little River and Coral Gables Canal
  • Slow speed - within portions of Meloy (or East) Channel and portions of the Intracoastal Waterway in Dumfoundling Bay and Biscayne Bay between Broad Causeway and Venetian Causeway.

Indian River County (until April 30)

Slow speed -

  • within Sand and Shell islands area;
  • Channel Marker 66 south to Channel Marker 75;
  • Indian River area from Hobert Lodge Marina to North Canal, and
  • from Channel Marker 156 south to St. Lucie County line west of the Intracoastal Waterway.

St. Lucie County

Until April 15
Slow speed
- within Garfield Cut/Fish House Cove area.

Until April 30
Slow speed
- within Intracoastal Waterway channel between North Beach Causeway south to Channel Marker 189 and within the Shark Cut Channel in the Ft. Pierce Inlet area.

Volusia County (until April 15)

  • Motorboats prohibited - Blue Spring Run.
  • Slow speed - St. Johns River, south of Lake Beresford to Channel Marker 67.

Complete copies of individual county waterway rules are available at or or by contacting FWC at 850-922-4330.

Zone Definitions

  • Idle speed (No wake) - Lowest speed needed to maintain steering and make headway (speed used when docking a boat).
  • Slow speed (No excessive wake) - Fully off plane and completely settled in the water, not plowing. This enables boats to move through an area with little or no impact to natural resources, shoreline erosion or other boaters.
  • Motorboats prohibited zone - Entry is prohibited for any vessel being propelled or powered by machinery.
  • No entry - No vessels or other human-related activities allowed.

FWC Facts:
The gray fox, sometimes referred to as the "tree fox," can scramble up a tree quickly. It is the only member of the canine family capable of climbing.

Learn More at AskFWC