Look out for manatees in Lowcountry waters this summer and do your part to help keep them safe during their visit | Ramos Keith/US Fish and Wildlife Service

With the heat of the summer bearing down on the Lowcountry, manatees have once again begun appearing in Charleston’s waters. Here’s what you need to know.

While the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates 7,520 manatees live in Florida, where water temperatures stay warm year-round, many venture north along the South Atlantic coast every spring and summer, often ending up in Charleston. 

Keep manatees safe during their visit

Erin Weeks, a science writer for the Marine Division of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), has spent the last seven years sharing conservation messages and other research from the state’s waterways. 

I felt there could be no more meaningful work than the protection and stewardship of my home state,” Weeks said. “Like many South Carolinians — even those who grow up on the coast — I had no idea our waters were home to manatees until I first encountered one in Shem Creek many years ago,” she said in an interview. “That was an awe-inspiring feeling — and I still experience it anew every time I see them.”

But manatees face several threats. Boat strikes top the list of causes of death in manatees in South Carolina. Weeks said boaters should be alert when on the water and learn to recognize the signs of wildlife. Not only does vigilance protect manatees, but it also safeguards sea turtles and dolphins.

“All of these animals forage in small tidal creeks that don’t provide much room to dive away from a fast-moving boat, so consider boating extra carefully in such areas,” Weeks said.

She offered a short list of tips and best practices to ensure manatees have a peaceful trip to the Lowcountry this summer:

  • Always check around your boat before starting your propeller;
  • Respect “No Wake Zones” and keep an eye out near marinas;
  • Never give fresh water to manatees. “They love drinking fresh water, but they don’t need it to survive,” Weeks said. “ ‘Watering’ manatees habituates them to areas where they’re more likely to be hit by a boat.”

Don’t touch that tracker! 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) in Florida uses satellite tags to track the migration of manatees and research their seasonal habits. These tags are anchored around the base of the manatee’s tail and float along the surface of the water. On occasion, you may find a tagged manatee near Charleston.

“On first glance, it can look a bit like a crab pot buoy floating behind a manatee,” Weeks said. “But they’re completely safe for the animals and we ask that folks not touch or interfere with the tracker in any way.”

A local man in early June told the City Paper that he spotted a manatee with a fixture matching that description while on the water. Weeks said it is possible that the manatee’s name is Knox, a familiar visitor to the area who, along with her calf, was rescued from the Cooper River last December and never migrated back to Florida on her own. 

To learn more about manatees and their habits, visit dnr.sc.gov.

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