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Officials urge boaters to watch for animals
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is urging recreational and commercial boaters to share state waters with other creatures.

That's especially true this time of year and throughout the summer, when manatees and sea turtles are usually moving about.

Both are protected by federal and state laws.

This time of year is an active season particularly for turtles, which swim for miles to local beaches, where they lay their eggs.

State marine biologists say boat strikes are a leading cause of sea turtle strandings and manatee injuries and deaths.

Mark Dodd, state sea turtle program coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources, said 43 percent of the sea turtles found dead or injured in Georgia in 2012 suffered injuries consistent with being hit by a boat. That's higher than average, which is usually around 25 percent, he said.

Boaters are urged to be aware and be prepared to slow down or steer clear when a turtle or manatee is sighted.

"Sea turtles aren't just in the ocean," Dodd said. "They're also in the tidal creeks and sounds."

Marine biologists say boaters should be aware of changes in the surface of the water, like swirls which might indicate the presence of a 1-ton manatee underwater.

A 300-pound loggerhead might show only its head above water, biologists say.

Loggerhead sea turtles reached a milestone last year with more than 2,000 tests, but boat strikes that kill or injured reproductive females can shatter those gains.

It's the same story for manatees, or sea cows. The large mammal is found in all Georgia tidal rivers, estuaries and near-shore marine waters, mostly east of Interstate 95. They've been spotted at least twice this year in the Brunswick area.

"We would expect their numbers to increase over the next month," said Clay George of the Nongame Conservation Section of the Department of Natural Resources.

Boaters who hit a manatee or sea turtle are asked to remain in the area and to immediately contact the DNR at 800-2-SAVE-ME (800-272-8363).

Boaters will not be charged if they were operating their boat responsibly, and the collision was an accident.

Boaters and others are also encouraged to report any dead manatees and sea turtles they see.

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