Florida Manatee Conservation
Endangered Florida manatees inhabit tidal rivers, estuaries and near-shore ocean waters throughout coastal Georgia during the warm months of the year. The Florida manatee population numbers at least 5,000 individuals, with approximately half of the population found along Florida’s Gulf Coast and the remainder along the Atlantic coast. Each spring an undetermined number of manatees migrate into Georgia and return to Florida in the fall as the water temperature cools.
The Nongame Conservation Section cooperates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Navy and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conserve manatees in Georgia. Management actions focus on reducing human-related mortality and protecting manatee habitat. Specific recovery tasks include documenting causes of manatee mortality and injury, rescuing injured and out-of-habitat manatees, monitoring manatee distribution and habitat use (e.g., collecting public sightings and photo-identification photos), reviewing permits and policies that have the potential to impact manatees and their habitat, and educating boaters about watercraft impacts.
Watercraft collisions are the leading anthropogenic cause of manatee mortality. Other impacts include attraction to industrial warm-water effluents and entanglement in fishing gear. Nongame staff documented 44 manatee mortalities in Georgia since 2000. Thirty-four percent died from watercraft collisions. The cause of death was undetermined in about half of the cases. Five manatees died of cold stress, one drowned in a shrimp trawl and one died by gunshot.
Since 2007, the Nongame Conservation Section has conducted aerial surveys to estimate manatee abundance and habitat use in waters surrounding Cumberland Sound and the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, with funding from the U.S. Navy.