BRUNSWICK, GA (WTOC) - The Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources says boaters should be on the lookout for sea turtles and manatees in the state's coastal waters.
Boat strikes are a leading cause of sea turtle strandings and manatee injuries and deaths, according to the DNR. Manatees and all sea turtles found in Georgia are protected by federal and state laws.
So far this year, more than 50 sea turtles have been found dead or injured on the beach or strand in Georgia, that's double the highest total during the same period over the last five years, according to the DNR.
Sea turtles are common on the ocean side of barrier islands, but they also frequent tidal waters, according to the DNR's State Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Mark Dodd.
Manatees head north to warm waters, marsh grass and other vegetation that are in Georgia tidal rivers, estuaries and marine waters, which are mostly east of Interstate 95.
The DNR recommends boaters adhere low-speed and no-wake zones, particularly around docks where manatees eat algae growing on the structures, to reduce the risk of collisions.
Boaters who hit a manatee or sea turtle are urged to stand by and immediately contact the DNR at 800.2.SAVE.ME. It gives biologists the best chance to help the animal and gather valuable scientific data.
Boaters won't be charged if they were operating their boat responsibly and the collision was an accident, according to the DNR.
Anyone who sees dead manatees and sea turtles are urged to report them and their tag color and number if possible.
Check for the latest sea turtle strandings online by clicking on the "reported strandings" box at the Georgia Wildlife website.
If you see or photograph a healthy, injured or dead manatee, contact DNR at (800) 2-SAVE-ME. If possible, record the date, time and number of manatees spotted.
DNR's tips for protecting manatees:
Check for manatees before cranking your boat's motor.
- Use caution when navigating in shallow water and along the edge of a marsh. Manatees cannot dive away from boats in these areas.
- Heed "slow speed," "no wake" and manatee warning signs, especially around docks.
- Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare so you can more easily spot manatees under water.
- Watch for large swirls in the water called "footprints" that may be caused by manatees diving away from the boat.
- Dock owners should never feed manatees or give them fresh water, which could train them to stay near docks and in danger of boat strikes.
- Never pursue, harass or play with manatees. It is bad for the manatees and is illegal.