THE ISSUE: Save the Manatee Club and U.S. Coast Guard warn boaters to follow rules of the water.

OUR OPINION: Use caution and practice common sense.

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Summer is almost here, and that means our waterways will be filled with boaters and swimmers. They’ll also be filled with manatees, part of the ecotourism that lures a lot of visitors to Citrus County.

The Save the Manatee Club and the U.S. Coast Guard are campaigning to caution boaters to follow the rules and use caution around the marine mammals.

According to a preliminary Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) report from May 21, watercraft strikes killed 45 manatees so far in 2021 across the state, with three deaths occurring in Citrus County. The West Indian manatee is protected under the Endangered Species Act and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and is listed as “threatened,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It’s commonplace to see large scars on the backs of manatees, a sad reminder of a careless boater. These accidents are preventable. Observe the speed zones and be on the lookout for the slow-moving creatures. Education and awareness are key to keeping manatees safe.

Manatees on the east coast are also suffering from a reduced food supply. The animals eat seagrass, and the FWC says environmental conditions such as fertilizer runoff and septic tanks leaching into rivers are causing the depletion.

But not in Citrus County.

Citizen efforts of the grassroots groups Save Crystal River and the Homosassa River Restoration Project are spearheading the cleanup of the Homosassa and Crystal rivers. The groups have raised funds to hire companies to remove the invasive Lyngbya algae and replant the sandy bottoms with natural eelgrass. The projects have been very successful at returning our rivers to their former state. Both projects should be a model to other parts of the state that are losing manatees. The volunteer groups are a great example of what can be done to reclaim our waterways and ensure years of healthy habitat for manatees.