As July 4 approaches and community members plan their celebrations on local waters and beaches, Mote Marine Laboratory reminds boaters and beachgoers to respect and protect marine animals.

Please practice safe boating, in accordance with guidelines from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Coast Guard, heed slow speed zone signs and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles, manatees and dolphins.

Below are wildlife-friendly tips useful for Independence Day, and any other time of year, from beach to boat.

Protect sea turtles on the beach
Sea turtle nesting season officially begins May 1 and ends Oct. 31 along southwest Florida beaches. Mote scientists monitor sea turtle nesting each day of season along 35 miles of beaches from Longboat Key through Venice.
Sea turtles are protected under state and federal laws, along with city and county ordinances.

Southwest Florida residents and visitors should follow these turtle-friendly tips:

•    If you encounter a nesting turtle or hatchlings, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
•    Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October — artificial lights visible from the beach can disorient and attract sea turtles, particularly hatchlings that should be crawling toward the water.
•    Close drapes after dark.
•    Stack beach furniture at the dune line, or ideally, remove it from the beach.
•    Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.

Do not:
•    Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles.
•    Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
•    Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
•    Use fireworks on the beach.

On Longboat Key through Venice, beachgoers should wait until at least sunrise to set up furniture or equipment. This will allow any new turtle crawls and nests to be documented by Mote scientists. If you see turtle tracks not yet documented by Mote (documented tracks are crossed out with an “X” in the sand), please avoid placing furniture on them and call Mote’s Turtle Patrol at 941-388-4331 to report their location. Tracks marked with small flags have been found by Mote volunteers but are awaiting documentation.
Dogs are not allowed on Sarasota County beaches other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice, where they must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances.

Watch out for dolphins, manatees and turtles at sea
Mote urges boaters to be on the lookout for manatees, dolphins and sea turtles this Memorial Day weekend.

The leading human-caused threat to Florida manatees is watercraft collisions. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, watercraft have caused at least 38 manatee deaths from Jan. 1-May 4, 2018, in Florida. Propellers and boat hulls inflict serious or mortal wounds, and most surviving manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails.

Manatees are currently on the move in the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota Bay and surrounding waters for foraging and mating, and the Bay provides a home for mother manatees and their newborn calves. During the summer months, people might observe mating herds – several manatees gathered as males vie to mate with a female. It is best to observe herds from a distance without disrupting the animals’ natural mating behavior, as adult manatees typically weigh more than 1,000 pounds and people can be seriously injured by a thrashing manatee.

Dolphins give birth during late spring and summer. Dolphins do not, or cannot, always get out of the way of approaching boats, and fatal collisions and serious injuries to dolphins occur in Sarasota Bay. The vast majority of boat collisions with dolphins in Sarasota Bay and vicinity occur during the days and weeks surrounding July 4.  The Bay’s resident dolphins frequent shallow waters where they may be unable to dive below an approaching boat. Naïve newborn dolphins lack the skills and experience to avoid boats, and have to surface more frequently to breathe than do older dolphins. Four calves have been born so far to Sarasota Bay resident dolphins.
Sea turtles are swimming just offshore to mate and females inhabit nearshore waters before and between nesting events. Juvenile and sub-adult loggerhead and green sea turtles are seen frequently, year-round in Sarasota Bay.

Tips for boaters:
•    Please practice safe boating, in accordance with guidelines from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Coast Guard, heed slow speed zone signs, and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles, manatees and dolphins.
•    If you observe a manatee mating herd, watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer might disrupt the animals’ natural mating behavior or put people into harm’s way.
•    Follow 10 simple dolphin-friendly viewing tips on how to enjoy your day on the water while helping to protect dolphins. Click here for a PDF. These tips were made with dolphins in mind, but they’re also great guidelines for the best ways to view all large marine animals.
•    Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.
•    Never feed marine wildlife. Click here to watch a PSA about why it’s harmful and illegal to feed wild dolphins:
•    Stow trash and fishing line when under way. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a vehicle can become ingested by or entangled around marine life.

For additional information about sharing the inshore and coastal environment with Florida’s marine mammals, check out the book “Dolphins, Whales and Manatees of Florida: A Guide to Sharing Their World,” authored Dr. John Reynolds and Dr. Randall Wells and published in 2003 by the University Press of Florida, Gainesville. ISBN 0-8130-2687-3: 148pp

Emergency contacts
Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle, please call Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at 888-345-2335 and leave a verbal message.  Our staff will call you back promptly
If you see an entangled, stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC, *FWC on your cellular phone or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.