Florida Manatee
© Jan Reyneirs

Florida Manatee

Preserving Manatee Habitat

As Florida’s human population increases and waterfront development continues, manatees are losing the habitats they rely on to survive.  Development can damage seagrasses (manatees’ main food source),  degrade water quality and reduce the availability of warm water from natural springs that provide manatees shelter during periods of cold weather.  At temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the stress of the cold can become dangerous, or even fatal to manatees.

The Problem

Residential and commercial  development has reduced the number of natural warm springs that manatees once used to stay warm during the winter. Now, most manatees rely on the warm water outfall that power plants produce. But if plants are shut down, or their equipment fails, manatees would be left in the cold. The survival of Florida’s manatees will depend on protecting the natural warm springs that they rely on, and ensuring that they can enjoy those places safely.

How We're Helping

We have advocated for the establishment of more protected areas for manatees, including Three Sisters Spring at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and Kings Bay Manatee Refuge, so that  manatees can shelter in the warm springs they need and travel to them with reduced threats from speeding watercraft. And we continue to advocate for increased protection and restoration of natural springs so that more manatees can use them to keep warm in winter. Defenders also comments on conservation and management plans for these and other protected areas to ensure that seagrasses remain healthy for manatees.

We are also encouraging agencies and utility companies to develop plans with manatees in mind so that any future change in power plant operations don’t endanger these marine mammals.

And lastly, Defenders is working to ensure that manatee critical habitat – that is, the habitat especially protected for manatees under the Endangered Species Act - will be revised to include most the important areas, such as warm water, travel corridors, and food sources. Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that revision of manatees’ critical habitat is needed, it has not made this revision a priority, so we continue to push for this much-needed step.

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Manatees, © Jan Reyniers
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