Florida Manatees 101
Florida manatees are unique and gentle marine mammals, found mainly in coastal estuaries and rivers of the Sunshine State. But these slow-moving giants are in danger, as the large numbers of people living along Florida’s waterways increasingly come into contact with and cause harm to these fascinating animals.
Why They’re Important
Manatees are herbivores, with a diet consisting mostly of sea grasses and freshwater vegetation. Like other grazing animals, they play an important role in influencing the plant growth in the shallow rivers, bays, estuaries, canals and coastal waters they call home.
The leading human-caused threat to Florida manatees is collisions with watercraft. Propellers and boat hulls inflict serious or mortal wounds, and most manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails after surviving collisions with boats. Scientists believe that unless this cause of death is curtailed, the manatee population will not recover.
The greatest long-term threat involves the loss of warm-water habitat that manatees need to survive. Because residential development has greatly reduced the natural warm water springs used by manatees to stay warm, many of the animals aggregate in the warm-water outfalls at electric power plants on cold winter days. Scientists predict that a large percentage of the manatee population could be lost in the next few decades as aging plants are shut down.
What Defenders Is Doing to Help Florida Manatees
As a member of the Florida Manatee Recovery Team, Defenders of Wildlife helped identify the steps necessary for manatee recovery in the wild, and we’re dedicated to seeing it through. We are working to uphold the laws that protect Florida manatees, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.
Defenders is also working to expand protected areas for temperature-sensitive manatees. We support a new rule proposed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to create a manatee refuge that includes all of Kings Bay in Crystal River, Florida, as well as restoration of natural springs to support manatees.