DNR advises boaters to be on lookout for sea turtles, manatees

DNR advises boaters to be on lookout for sea turtles, manatees
Published: Apr. 12, 2016 at 10:11 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2016 at 10:11 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - With sea turtle and manatee sightings on the rise on Georgia's coast, boaters should be on the lookout for these big and rare animals.

Boat strikes are a leading cause of sea turtle strandings and manatee injuries and deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Last year alone, about 28 percent of the sea turtles found dead or injured on the beach or strand in Georgia suffered injuries consistent with being hit by a boat. That said, DNR officials acknowledge that accidents do happen, and they ask that you report each incident to help them keep track of the encounters.

"If you do happen to run into one, or see someone run into an animal, you can just call our 1.800 number, which is 1.800.2.SAVEME, and report that, and that's really important for us to keep track of the number of interactions, where they're occurring, and help us better protect these threatened species," said Mark Dodd, Wildlife Biologist, Department of Natural Resources.

Each spring, manatees migrate from Florida to Georgia, attracted by abundant marsh grass and other aquatic vegetation. "Manatees occur in all tidal waters throughout coastal Georgia, from April to October," said wildlife biologist Clay George of DNR's Nongame Conservation Section. Some were spotted near Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in early March, and manatees were reported near Brunswick and Savannah last week. "So manatees are now throughout the coast," George said.

Which means boaters should be on the lookout for these massive marine mammals.

Heeding low-speed and no-wake zones, particularly around docks where manatees eat algae growing on the structures, will reduce collision risks. So will sticking to the deeper channels when boating in tidal rivers and creeks. George said manatees "are often right along the edge of the marsh," feeding on Spartina alterniflora, or salt marsh cordgrass.

Boaters will not be charged if they were operating their boat responsibly, and the collision was an accident.

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