TEQUESTA, Fla. — So far in 2020, more than 500 manatees have died in Florida waters.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said of that number, nearly 80 were killed as a result of interactions with watercraft.
That's why one South Florida police marine unit went out to remind boaters to be aware of the gentle giants.
Tequesta police Lt. James Pike was on the Intracoastal Waterway watching for boaters who may be endangering one of the most precious residents in Florida waters.
The village is one of nine communities that partner with Palm Beach County's Department of Environmental Resource Management.
"We do see more manatee activity over the winter months and that’s because, during the colder weather, manatees are migrating down here to warmer waters from up north and looking for those warm water refuges to stay in to stay warmer," Teal Kawana, an environmental analyst, said.
Pike, who was a commercial boat captain before joining the police, is one of seven members of the village's marine unit.
"Sometimes chaotic but enjoyable. It's fun to get out and speak with the people and make contacts," he said.
When he makes contact with boaters, there is the enforcement part.
"We give them a card that explains your safety zones, that explains the difference between idle speeds, slow speeds, minimum wake or, in this particular case, it's a manatee protection zone, which has a speed limit," Pike explained.
There's also connections to be made with young boaters.
"It helps us give positive context with the younger people on boats and make sure that everything is a positive contact," he said. "But it also enlists them to help us slow the boaters down."