Increased boating during COVID-19 pandemic is harming marine life on the Suncoast

Increased Boating Hurts Marine Life

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and being outdoors has been a priority for most. On the Suncoast, there’s no better place to do that than on the water. However, this has wreaked havoc on our marine life.

“We were on my dock, and we saw a manatee and it looked like it got cut with a knife, but it got cut with a boat. It was just floating in the shallow area. I just wanted to get it help,” Reed North and Rayne Boshek, two six-year-olds who saved a manatee in Terra Ceia, tell us.

Luckily, this manatee was saved by them and their families who called Florida Fish and Wildlife right away. It was rehabilitated at the Tampa Zoo, and released back into Manatee County waters just a couple of months later. However, many other manatees, turtles and dolphins have not been so lucky throughout this pandemic.

“Between the number of people that are out on the boat or on the beaches because there’s not much else people can do,” explained Gretchen Lovewell, the Stranding Investigations Program Manager at Mote Marine Laboratory.

Lovewell tells us that 50 percent of the calls they’ve gotten in the last six months have been injured or killed marine life caused by human interactions.

“We’ve already recovered more turtles and more boat-struck turtles than we did all of last year. For our dolphins, it’s been really rough. We’ve had 14 total dolphins this year, which is more than we normally have in a year,” Lovewell said.

Mote Marine scientists tell us these deaths have mostly been caused by propellers, fishing lines and hooks, so being extra careful out on the water can really make a difference. Plus, Mote Marine is asking that if anyone sees a hurt or deceased animal, to call FWC immediately and stay with it until help arrives.

“Know that you’re not going to get in trouble. We are not going to prosecute you. We want to help these animals. We want to learn from them. If they’re alive and we can save them, great. If they’ve died, we want to document them and learn from them, so we can do right by all the other animals that are still out there,” Lovewell explained.

The quicker these animals can get help, the more we’ll see of these Suncoast strong stories of the community coming together.

Marine experts also say to remember to go slow in shallow areas and if you’re out on the beach, pick up all your belongings before you leave to make sure turtles have a direct access to the water.

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