The U.S. Coast Guard is patrolling the St. Johns River off of Jacksonville's north bank Friday. Commanding Officer Nicholas Pavlik steers toward a manatee zone right under the Hart Bridge that’s marked with an orange and white sign.
“If you’re outside of those red and green buoys, you need to be at no wake and that is the manatee zone,” said Pavlik, pointing to the marked areas. “That’s where the manatees tend to be, kind of outside the channel, off to the side grouped together.”
The Coast Guard teams with other agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, to enforce slow speed and no wake zones.
Now with boating season underway, Jacksonville law enforcement and conservation groups are urging boaters to slow down for manatees.
JSO Sergeant Patricia Grant said Jacksonville has approximately 30,000 registered boaters and if they don't throttle down, they’ll get a ticket.
“Federal fines range from $125 to $25,000 and or six months imprisonment under the Endangered Species Act,” she said.
People can be fined for speeding or harassing manatees.
But Jacksonville University Marine Science professor Quint White said jet skis are just as big a danger to manatees as boats.
“It’s that blunt-force trauma that will actually kill the manatee,” White said. “Going as slow as 14 mph will kill a manatee.”
There was one watercraft-related manatee death in Jacksonville, down from eight in 2009. But there’s already been one such manatee death this year and boating season is only now getting underway.