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Manatee and Other Marine Animal Watch Information

manatee watch at the Gasparilla Boat Parade
Observers in a helicopter looking for manatees
Observers looking for manatees at a clamshell dredge site

Observer and Watch Information

Many state and federally issued permits require a protected marine animal watch program to help prevent injury or death of protected marine species from permitted in-water activities. A watch program typically involves observers that are experienced in observing the marine species expected to be present in the work location. These species typically include: manatees, marine turtles, dolphins and whales.

The main purpose of a watch program is to advise personnel to cease operation of any in-water construction activity upon sighting a protected marine animal within a danger zone of the activity. This activity includes, but is not limited to, dredging and filling operations, boat operations associated with in-water work, blasting, high speed boat racing and marine events with large numbers of boats.

Depending on the type of work and the location, some permits require state or federal verification of observer experience and a watch plan before work can be performed. Other permits require an experienced, dedicated observer but do not require a specific amount of experience or FWC verification of experience.

FWC review of observer experience for specific projects

There is no FWC observer certification, training or approval program. For projects with State issued permits requiring FWC review and verification of experience, observers must be reviewed on a project-by-project basis. The amount of experience an observer is required to have for a specific project depends on the work being performed, its location, and possibly the time of year. An observer may be considered qualified for a specific project if the observer has experience that is comparable to the type of observation work proposed. For example, if an observer wants to be considered qualified to observe during a clamshell dredging project in or near areas of high manatee use, they must have commensurate, previous observation experience during a clamshell dredging project in or near areas of high manatee use.

observers watching a manatee

If an experienced observer or watch program is required by permit, a request for approval must be emailed to ImperiledSpecies@myfwc.com. This request for FWC review should include:

- Permit Name and Number;

- Project Location and Work Description;

- Dates the Project is anticipated to begin and end;

- The required observer information. (see below)

Required Observer Information for FWC Review

The instructions for submitting information for FWC review is located on the FWC Marine Protected Species Observer Information Form (revised 2019). Information should be submitted on the form along with supporting documentation and emailed to the address above.

manatee tail
a manatee's "footprint"
manatee snout

Tips for Observers

Observers should work in shifts to reduce fatigue and increase the likelihood that marine species will be sighted. Six to eight hour shifts are considered optimal. Observers should be equipped with polarized sunglasses to aid in observation. While all personnel involved with in-water work are responsible for looking out for protected species, designated observers should not perform any other duties while observing.

There is a video resource called An Introduction to Manatees for people who observe for manatees during permitted in-water activities to help prevent animal injury or death. The video includes facts about manatees and manatee presence in Florida waterways, and describes how to identify manatees in the water. The video provides only a basic introduction on how to observe manatees.

Observer Logs

Some permits require that logs be maintained, and reports given to the regulatory and wildlife agencies. All observers should maintain a daily log that details sightings, collisions, or injuries to protected marine animals, as well as project specific information such as work schedule, names of observers on duty, weather, work shut downs, location of observers, observer shift changes, etc.

A copy of these logs should be provided to FWC as required by permit or for verification of experience.  Within 30 days following each dredging event, a final report summarizing all incidents and sightings from the daily logs, including some photographs of in-water work and animals seen, should be submitted to the FWC at ImperiledSpecies@myfwc.com.

See an example of required information in a daily log.  While the format of logs can vary from this example, the example provides the typical information that is required.