Saving the Florida Manatee Through Spring Restoration

Introduction

Despite being one of the most well-known, beloved, and symbolic creatures in the state of Florida, the Florida manatee is on the brink of extinction due to the significant cooling of the waters off Florida’s coast during the winter months.[i] Naturally tropical creatures, manatees must take refuge at numerous warm-water sites around the state in order to survive cold spells. The number of such warm water sites, however, is rapidly decreasing, resulting in the death of many manatees each year from cold-stress syndrome.[ii]

Background

The Florida manatee lives primarily in Florida and southeastern Georgia, typically residing in freshwater and saltwater habitats. Although the exact number of existing manatees is unknown, yearly aerial surveys suggest that there is a minimum of 5,076 animals.[iii]

Problem

Florida manatees cannot survive in the cold and may die when the temperature drops below 68° Fahrenheit. Therefore, winter warm-water sites, which include natural springs and the outfalls of power plants, have been crucial to their survival. Unfortunately, the number of both of these vital sites has been continually decreasing. The natural springs of Florida, which maintain a temperature in the low 70s year-round due to bubbling groundwater,[iv] have been polluted, and the flow of the natural springs has decreased to account for the demand for drinking water as develop more state land.[v]

Additionally, the winter protection offered by outfalls of power plants has also diminished. Outfalls of ten power plants around Florida can be used by about only 60% of the manatee population while a majority of power plants, built between the 1940s and the early 1970s face the end of their planned operational lives.[vi]

The rapid elimination of these warm-water sites is problematic because without them, a large fraction of the already small manatee population will not be able to survive future winters.

Policy Recommendation

Federal funding for spring restoration projects started by The Nature Conservancy must be increased. The restoration program will improve the manatee’s survival odds in the winter by creating access to warm wintertime locations at several Florida springs. The Conservancy projects aim to improve access to priority spring runs and their connections to rivers, reduce the impacts of dams, weirs, and other man-made obstructions, and decrease sediments that build up, making spring runs too shallow for manatees.[vii] While the program currently receives a combination of federal and state grants of roughly $120,000 per year,[viii] increasing this grant to $500,000 per year would allow for a significant increase in the protection of the manatee population by allowing the Conservancy to undertake more than just a few renovations at a time.

Policy Analysis

Strengths

The policy will improve access to priority spring runs and their connections to rivers, reduce the impacts of dams, weirs, and other man made obstructions, and decrease sediments that build up, making spring runs too shallow for manatees. These efforts will decrease manatee dependence on the unreliable outfalls of power plants, which may disappear in the near future, and protect the manatee community by offering a consistent and comfortable yearly habitat to reside in during the threatening winter months.

Additionally, the program has already been shown to be effective, so the risk of investment is minimal. Two projects, the Three Sisters Springs at the Crystal River in north central Florida and Fanning Springs in Levy County, have already been completed with beneficial results. At Three Sisters Springs, several large boulders were repositioned that had blocked the manatees’ passage into the springs for many years. At Fanning Springs, manatees gained access to the spring by fighting through sediment at the mouth of the river, then shimmying under a dock. Both of these issues have been rectified as a result of the spring restoration program.[ix]

Weaknesses

While the program receives minimal federal funding of roughly $120,000 per year[x], a significant increase in governmental grants would allow for The Nature Conservancy to undertake more projects, and save more manatees, each year.

Such rationale, however, fails to take into account the impact of allocating such funds. While a tripling of the current grants would, in the grand scheme of things, represent a small fraction of the state budget, the salience of the issue may not be high enough to warrant delegation of money into this program. While many citizens may want to save the manatees, they may not be willing to do so at the cost of additional taxes.

 

Opportunities

The manatee is a beloved animal in the United States, and particularly in Florida. Taking efforts to increase protection of the species will draw positive media attention not only to the manatees, but also to its supporters. If Republicans decide to allocate the small amount of funds requested to the program, then this might bolster some support for the party by demonstrating to the American people that the party is transforming and becoming more compassionate.

Threats

The public sympathy for manatees may soon dissipate, and so too may the opportunity to help them by way of the spring restoration program. While the Conservancy will rightfully continue to restore springs, reports speculate that the manatee may soon be taken off the endangered species list.[xi] Although removal from the list represents a step in the right direction, it might be mistaken as a symbol that no further help is needed, which will only harm the manatee in the long run.

Conclusions

Although the manatee population is recovering, this great species can only fully recuperate from near extinction with continued support and investment. Therefore, a supplemental grant from Florida of $380,000 per year, which would result in a total amount of $500,000 per year, to aid in spring restoration projects will help ensure the continued existence of the manatee population. Additionally, in order to combat the weaknesses and threats outlined above and garner widespread support for the increase in grants, a statewide campaign should be orchestrated focusing on the narrative surrounding the importance of the manatee and their ordeal with death as a result of cold-stress syndrome.

 

[i] “Florida Manatee Recovery Facts” North Florida Ecological Services Office. http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/Manatee/manatee-gen-facts.htm (February 5, 2015).

 

[ii] “Manatees Need Warm Water in Cold Weather” Save the Manatee. http://www.savethemanatee.org/news_feature_warm_water_sign.htm (February 5, 2015).

 

[iii] “Florida Manatee” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee. http://myfwc.com/research/manatee/ (February 5, 2015).

 

[iv] “Florida Manatee: Opening the Door to Survival” The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/howwework/saving-manatees-through-springs-restoration.xml (February 5, 2015).

 

[v] “Manatees Need Warm Water in Cold Weather” Save the Manatee. http://www.savethemanatee.org/news_feature_warm_water_sign.htm (February 5, 2015).

 

[vi] Ibid.

 

[vii] “Florida Manatee: Opening the Door to Survival” The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/howwework/saving-manatees-through-springs-restoration.xml (February 5, 2015).

 

[viii] “Annual Report” The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/media/annualreport/annualreport2010.pdf (February 5, 2015).

 

[ix] “Florida Manatee: Opening the Door to Survival” The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/howwework/saving-manatees-through-springs-restoration.xml (February 5, 2015).

 

[x] “Annual Report” The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/media/annualreport/annualreport2010.pdf (February 5, 2015).

 

[xi] “Florida Manatee Could Loose Endangered Status” Daily Motion. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2737794/Florida-Manateees-lose-endangered-species-status-save-brink-extinction.html (February 5, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

  1. Annual Report The Nature Conservancy http://www.nature.org/media/annualreport/annualreport2010.pdf (2015).

 

  1. Environmental Conservation Online System U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/reports/species-listed-by-state-report?state=FL&status=listed (2015).

 

  1. Florida Manatee Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee http://myfwc.com/research/manatee/ (2015).
  2. Florida Manatee Could Loose Endangered Status Daily Motion. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2737794/Florida-Manateees-lose-endangered-species-status-save-brink-extinction.html (2014).

 

  1. Florida Manatee: Opening the Door to Survival The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/howwework/saving-manatees-through-springs-restoration.xml (February 5, 2015).

 

  1. Florida Manatee Recovery Facts North Florida Ecological Services Office http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/Manatee/manatee-gen-facts.htm (2013).

 

  1. Manatee Facts Save the Manatee http://www.savethemanatee.org/manfcts.htm (2014).

 

  1. Manatees Need Warm Water in Cold Weather Save the Manatee http://www.savethemanatee.org/news_feature_warm_water_sign.htm (2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

  1. Annual Report The Nature Conservancy http://www.nature.org/media/annualreport/annualreport2010.pdf (2015).

 

  1. Environmental Conservation Online System U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/reports/species-listed-by-state-report?state=FL&status=listed (2015).

 

  1. Florida Manatee Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee http://myfwc.com/research/manatee/ (2015).
  2. Florida Manatee Could Loose Endangered Status Daily Motion. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2737794/Florida-Manateees-lose-endangered-species-status-save-brink-extinction.html (2014).

 

  1. Florida Manatee: Opening the Door to Survival The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/howwework/saving-manatees-through-springs-restoration.xml (February 5, 2015).

 

  1. Florida Manatee Recovery Facts North Florida Ecological Services Office http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/Manatee/manatee-gen-facts.htm (2013).

 

  1. Manatee Facts Save the Manatee http://www.savethemanatee.org/manfcts.htm (2014).

 

  1. Manatees Need Warm Water in Cold Weather Save the Manatee http://www.savethemanatee.org/news_feature_warm_water_sign.htm (2014).

 

 

 

 

Ed Isola

About Ed Isola

I am a Mathematics and Computer Science and Political Science double major at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. Outside of writing, I enjoy wrestling and playing music.

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