12 February 2014 In winter, manatees need help getting warmed up Posted by: Shannon Miller | 5 comments | Share: Recently, the Defenders Florida team visited the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, Florida. Nancy Gloman and Michelle Davis from our national headquarters, volunteer Cathy Connolly and Defenders’ National Council member Barbara Long also came along; this was an opportunity no one wanted to miss. That’s because the viewing center, located at the Tampa Electric Big Bend Power Station’s discharge canal, gives visitors the rare opportunity to see hundreds of manatees at once, resting in the warm water the power station pumps out. The power station at the Manatee Viewing Center. Manatees are drawn to warm water sources in winter. Photo by Shannon Miller When we first arrived at the center, we came to a mangrove-covered walkway that led us out onto a very long dock. As we walked further down the path, we noticed how LOUD the power plant is, drowning out almost all natural sound. Then, as we emerged from the trees, we were treated to a spectacular– and surreal– sight: manatees, as far as the eye can see! Big ones, little ones, mothers with calves, some resting, some rolling around and some floating on their backs basking in the sun. Other species, such as sting rays, could be seen swimming through the shallow water. While it was exciting for us to watch so many manatees together, it was also a little sad to have to see them in the shadow of a very large, very loud power plant. Manatees seek out warm-water areas whenever the water temperature dips below 68 degrees or so. Before the advent of power plants, manatees relied solely on warm-water springs and other natural areas for refuge in the winter months. But now, power plants are both a source of warmth and a big potential problem for manatees, as around 60% of the manatee population has become dependent on artificial sources of warm water at power plants. Loss of warm-water habitat is a serious long-term threat to manatees. If the Tampa Electric Big Bend Power Station or other electric plants are shut down or experience equipment failure, it could mean death for many of these manatees, which may only know these locations as an escape from cooler winter waters. In fact, these discharge canals are designated manatee sanctuaries because they are so critical to the species’ survival. Some power plants host over a thousand manatees during cold weather events, making these groups of animals extremely vulnerable in the event of a power failure or outbreak of disease. A manatee swims on its back at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, Florida. Photo by Cathy Connolly This is why it is so important that we protect the manatees’ natural habitat, and restore our natural springs. Artificial sources of warm water like the power plant are uncertain and aren’t sustainable for future generations. Defenders is dedicated to protecting coastal habitat and natural springs for manatees, and establishing refuges and sanctuaries that keep them safe from collisions with speeding boats. Our ongoing work to improve protections for manatees in Kings Bay in Crystal River, Florida is a primary example of this work. We are also working with government agencies and other organizations to create a plan to wean manatees from artificial sources of warm water. Our visit to the Manatee Viewing Center during the winter was an unforgettable experience. With careful management and restoration work, we can enjoy the sight of manatee gatherings at natural springs and protected sanctuaries for years to come. Shannon Miller, Florida Program Coordinator 5 Responses to “In winter, manatees need help getting warmed up” nora coyle February 12th, 2014 we should be doing everything possible to save the manatees. Is there a petition to be signed? Michael A. Stumpf February 12th, 2014 We really need to restore the natural warm waters these Manatees once had. For future reference we need to triple our environmental impact studies and implement the expertise of independent scientists. Randi Tuck February 16th, 2014 Please don’t shut down something that is needed for survival. If you couldn’t breathe would you want your oxygen shut off. Think about it. sharyn baker February 16th, 2014 Everything possible should be done for the Manatees, their numbers are diminishing what a shame if we were to lose them all. Denise Derouen February 17th, 2014 Please help these beautiful creatures! Post Your Comment Click here to cancel reply. 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