SARASOTA, Fla. -- While boaters on the Suncoast celebrate the Labor Day weekend on the water-- many are aware of speed zones to ensure Manatee safety from collisions with boats.
"It’s not a race out here; you're not racing to get anywhere. You’re just having a good time and you need to pay attention to the water."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is now considering changing the manatee's status from endangered to threatened, and is looking for public input before making a decision. Critics of the current endangered designation say manatees are important to Florida’s tourism and environment--but the species has recovered sufficiently over the last 4 to 5 decades to be reclassified.
As it stands now, sea cows' endangered status puts speed limits on boaters, and some regulations on fishermen.
Avid boater Aaron Burkett says the focus of safety for manatees shouldn’t change even if the classification does.
"I wear polarized glasses, I go real slow. I see a manatee zone that I know from being in and out of the channels that they prevalently hang out; I just keep an eye out for them. I take a proactive approach.”
Boater Darrell Seitz says because the manatee population is recovering-- he trusts that state wildlife agencies will ultimately make the right decision.
“I think the FWC knows what’s best for them and plus the studies out there at Mote Marine—they know best and I’ll gladly abide by the rules or laws if they have one.
And Darrell has a piece of advice for boaters no matter what.
"I think when people are out anchored up someplace or out there swimming, leave them alone. Don’t swim up on them. Let them go their way and don't harass them."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is accepting public comments until Tuesday. A decision on the status change won't come until officials complete their review, which could take up to a year.