Robert Bonde, U.S. Geological Survey
Three dead manatees have been reported in Charleston-area waters in the past two weeks
Reports of a third dead manatee spotted in Lowcountry waters in the past two weeks have state officials and agencies concerned about the causes behind these recent deaths.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources was notified Tuesday morning of a dead manatee seen near Garris Landing in Awendaw. This sighting comes just one week after dead manatees were found near Shem Creek and Sullivan’s Island. The cause of death for the Sullivan’s Island manatee was found to be the result of a boat propeller, while results were inconclusive in determining how the other creature died.
As waters warm, manatees migrate to the South Carolina coast from Florida each spring, inhabiting tidal rivers, estuaries, and shoreline waters throughout the summer until temperatures cool. The number of manatee sightings in South Carolina tends to spike in July. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the exact number of these endangered creatures inhabiting South Carolina’s coastline is unknown due to the murky waters interfering with surveys. Anyone who sights a manatee is asked to take photos and report it to the DNR
to help officials better track their movements.
Collisions with boats are a major threat to these slow-moving creatures, who sometimes feed in shallow waters around docks and near marshes. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, approximately 25-30 percent of manatee deaths statewide are caused by watercraft. So far this year, the commission has recorded a total of 366 deaths in Florida waters, 80 of which were found to be the result of boats and other vessels. In order to reduce the number of deaths caused by boaters, manatee protection zones have been established along Florida waterways, restricting boaters to an idle or slower speed during certain portions of the year.
The DNR recommends that boaters check for any nearby manatees when cranking their motors and keep and eye out for large swirls in the water that may be caused by the marine mammals diving away from the boat. It is illegal to feed manatees — a behavior that may cause the creatures to approach docks and other areas with high human traffic.