There are three statutes which protect the Florida manatee (a sub-species of the West Indian Manatee): the
Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972 (MMPA) the Endangered Species Act, 1973 (ESA) and the Florida Manatee
Sanctuary Act, 1978 (FMSA). The first protects any marine mammal including the manatee. The manatee is a
protected species under the second and the third specifically protects manatee habitat and activities in
Under these statutes both civil and criminal acts can be prosecuted. It is illegal by any means for anyone
to harass, capture, or kill any Florida manatee, including at any time, by any means, intentionally or
negligently, annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.
Sentences imposed under these statutes can range from a one year in prison and/or fine up to $100,000 for a
federal criminal offense, to violations of Florida state law punishable by sixty days in prison and/or a fine
Rules of law are established under the statutes creating, for example, sanctuaries, restricted speed zones
as well as research activities, together with definitions of Harassment, Taking or lessor infringements.
What you can do to help
Harassment may be defined as any activity which causes change to a manatee's natural behavior,
including any of the following which are expressly forbidden:
- swimming after a manatee moving away from you, or approaching a manatee before it has come up to you.
- pressing upon a manatee with your hand or foot, or any implement of any sort.
- doing anything to separate a calf from a cow, or separate any manatee from a group of manatees or from
- doing anything to disturb a resting manatee.
- attempting to feed any manatee or disturbing any naturally feeding manatee.
Particularly when operating any type of motor powered watercraft whether a boat or personal watercraft:
- do not enter any posted sanctuary or restricted area.
- keep away from any area where manatees may be seen - indicated by surface swirls, or a snout or any body
part breaking the water surface.
- obey signs restricting permissible watercraft speeds.