Manatees are among the most gentle and friendly creatures on Earth, which unfortunately means they’re near the bottom of the food chain. They have been protected under Florida state law since 1893, and listed as endangered since the birth of the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.

This year however, Feds are planning to upgrade them from “endangered” to “threatened.” This doesn’t sound like much of an improvement, but it means the population has remained stable for long enough that officials no longer think they’re in imminent danger of extinction. At last count, there were an estimated 6,000 manatees in Florida waters.

That’s great news, but it doesn’t mean they are in the clear just yet. Now more than ever, we as Floridians need to be aware of how we affect the local ecosystem and take steps to protect all of the amazing creatures that call Florida home.

  • Boat responsibly. Manatees are neither the brightest nor the fastest animals out there. If you’re boating anywhere that is believed to be a manatee habitat, it’s very important that you slow down. Manatees are too stupid and slow to get out of your way if you’re speeding. Being run over by a boat is the most common way manatees are injured or killed in the wild. Pay attention to signs, go slow and keep an eye out for big blobby shadows under the surface.
  • Stop throwing trash in the water. Seriously, just don’t do it. Littering makes you a terrible person. Manatees are dumb, remember? They will eat your garbage, and they will die. This one also goes for fish, birds, alligators and pretty much any other animal. Little pieces of shiny plastic are easily mistaken for a snack and stray fishing line can wrap around their necks or fins. Dispose of your trash properly and pick up any other trash you see while you’re out. The manatees will thank you.
  • Don’t feed or pet the manatees. Manatees are really cute in an ugly kind of way. They stick their big weird noses out of the water and beg for treats like fat aquatic dogs. Do not give in. Feeding or touching any wildlife is generally considered a bad idea, and in the case of manatees it is actually illegal to touch or disturb them and could even score you a huge fine. The reasoning behind this one is simple. If you feed them, they get used to the idea of being fed. They start hanging around more in high-traffic areas waiting for people to toss them some snacks, and then they get hit by a boat or caught up in someone’s fishing line. Manatees mostly eat sea grass anyway, so just leave them alone.

For more information on what you can do to protect manatees, check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife website to learn the rules of interacting with them and how to be a responsible boater.