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Gearing up for a busy boating weekend? Watch out for wildlife

Make sure you have life jackets, safety equipment and a designated spotter for marine animals.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Here in Florida, any time there's nice weather, boaters like to get out and explore the water. Holidays can be an especially popular time with nearly 1 million registered boats across the state.

And, with Memorial Day weekend coming up, people are expected to flock to the water.

“I’m sure it’s going to be busy,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Bryce Phillippi said.

This is National Safe Boating Week. FWC officers and Hillsborough County deputies are encouraging you to be smart and get prepared before you head out on the boat.

They say you should make sure you have the right number of life jackets in the right size for everyone on board and keep an eye on the weather. They also say make sure everyone knows where you keep the safety equipment so it's easy to find in an emergency. Officers are going to be looking for anyone boating under the influence.

“We know it’s a weekend. We know everyone’s gonna drink. But it’s hot. You sweat all day, and all you’re doing is punishing all your bodily fluids with alcohol. It’s going to take effect, and we just don’t want that effect to be a negative one,” Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Master Sergeant Ryan Balseiro said.

You can expect to see extra enforcement out. All FWC officers will be on patrol. If you see something that's not right, you can report it to them or call 911.

While you're out, do your part to help protect our wildlife, and watch your wake. Slow down for the manatees. More than 30 percent of the manatee deaths so far this year along our Tampa Bay area coastline were due to boaters. It's likely that number's even higher because nearly 40 percent of the manatees that died did not have a necropsy due to COVID-19 restrictions.

According to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, rescuers took in 11 sea turtles last year with injuries and signs of boat strikes. That was 14.4 percent of all live turtle intakes. Unfortunately, not all of them have returned to the water.

Six bottlenose dolphins were also stranded last year due to boat strikes according to NOAA Fisheries.

Bert Pajor is an associate rescue biologist at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. He says with the amount of wildlife showing signs of trauma, it's good to have a spotter to look for wildlife. 

“You see a lot of impact from watercraft strikes on sea turtles, manatees and even dolphins so the most important thing we can ask of you as a boater out on this holiday weekend is to go slow. Obey your channel markings. If you come upon some wildlife, just slow down, slow to an idle speed. Let them go on their way,” Pajor said.

Florida Fish and Wildlife maps show much of the Bay area has slow speed zones for manatees.

You can check them out by county:

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