Manatee Awareness Month: Caring for Gentle Giants During Colder Months

Photo by International Environmental Justice Advocate Stel Bailey

BREVARD COUNTY, FL — As the weather cools and winter approaches, Florida's gentle giants, the manatees, begin their annual migration toward warmer waters. These gentle creatures, known for their peaceful demeanor and herbivorous diet, play a vital role in maintaining the health of our aquatic ecosystems. However, their survival is threatened by several factors, including habitat loss, boat strikes, and cold stress.

Manatee Migration and Congregation in Warm Areas

During the winter months, manatees gather in warm-water refuge areas, such as power plant discharge canals and natural springs. One such area, the Indian River Lagoon, provides a critical habitat for manatees, particularly in the De Soto Canal in Satellite Beach. As temperatures drop, these warm-water sanctuaries become increasingly important for manatees' survival.

Gentle Giants Facing Challenges
  1. Unfortunately, manatees face numerous challenges, including:   
  2. Habitat Loss: The destruction of their natural habitats, such as seagrass beds, deprives manatees of essential food sources and shelter.
  3. Boat Strikes: Manatees are often struck by boats, causing severe injuries or death.
  4. Cold Stress: During cold snaps, manatees can suffer from cold stress, leading to weakened immune systems and increased susceptibility to diseases.
The Devastating Unusual Mortality Event

In 2020, a devastating Unusual Mortality Event (UME) struck Florida's manatee population, causing the deaths of thousands of these gentle giants. The UME was attributed to a combination of factors, including the loss of seagrass beds due to nutrient pollution and algal blooms, and cold stress.

The Need for True Feeding Programs

While the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has implemented feeding programs for manatees, these efforts have been criticized as inadequate. Critics argue that these programs are more of a "dog and pony show" than a genuine effort to address the nutritional needs of manatees during the critical winter months.

Signs of Manatee Distress

If you encounter a manatee that appears to be in distress, please report it immediately to the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

Signs of distress include:
  • Unusual lethargy or inactivity
  • Visible injuries or wounds
  • Difficulty swimming or staying underwater
  • Unusual behavior, such as staying in one spot for an extended period
Protecting Our Gentle Giants

As we embark on Manatee Awareness Month, let us remember the plight of these gentle giants and take action to protect them. Here are some ways you can help:
  • Slow down and watch out for manatees while boating or kayaking.
  • Avoid disturbing manatees in their warm-water refuge areas.
  • Support organizations dedicated to manatee conservation.
  • Educate others about the importance of manatee protection.
By working together, we can ensure that Florida's gentle giants continue to thrive in our waterways for generations to come.

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