Morning photo: Manatee madness

Florida wildlife

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A manatee comes up for air in Florida’s Crystal River.

CRYSTAL RIVER — Getting a closeup look at marine mammals is always a treat. I believe we have a lot more in common with our ocean-going friends than we realize, and we should be trying to listen to what they have to say. This week, I had a chance to visit the Crystal River in Florida this week to look for manatees. The gentle vegetarians are protected by various federal and state laws, but they are still struggling due to extensive development and other human activities along the Florida coast. One of the best places to catch a glimpse of manatees is at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park about 45 minutes north of Tampa, Florida. Biologists at the park help rehabilitate manatees that have been injured by boat strikes, and from the park’s manatee observatory, it’s easy to see the deep scars on their backs. We’ve made some progress on protecting these magnificent marine mammals, but there’s more work to be done. Continue reading

Puerto Rico manatees threatened by lack of genetic diversity

Manatees at risk in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy NOAA.

USGS research shows isolated population

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Puerto Rico’s manatees could be threatened by extinction because they are relatively isolated genetically, with no cross-breeding between the Puerto Rico population  and those in Florida.

The findings, which come from a study of West Indian manatees by the U.S. Geological Survey and Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center, could help resource managers make decisions about how to conserve the endangered marine mammal. Continue reading

New study paints manatees as ecosystem sentinels

A Florida manatee, Photo courtesy USFWS.

Researchers assessed changes as human activity grew in a remote Belize coastal area

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Results of a long-term manatee study in Belize suggest the gentle marine mammals are a true sentinel species, indicating overall ecosystem health of coastal areas.

The research will help strengthen manatee conservation plans, showing the importance of protecting habitat and migratory paths, and working with local populations as well as tourists to educate them about conservation activities.

“Manatees are the proverbial ‘canaries in the mineshaft,’ as they serve as indicators of their environment and may reflect the overall health of marine ecosystems,” said co-author Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. Continue reading

Opinion: Florida dredging project threatens manatees

Florida manatees could be threatened by proposed new boating access channel on Florida's Nature Coast. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Florida developers just can’t let go of their get-rich-quick schemes

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Florida may still be mired in the worst real estate slump in memory, but that has never stopped starry-eyed speculators in the state from trying to make quick buck by scraping raw land and building ticky-tack subdivisions.

One of the latest schemes would make a mockery of the “Nature Coast” designation for a stretch of coastline extending from Clearwater to Ochlockonee Bay that harbors 19 endangered species.

As if the development weren’t bad enough on it own, there are plans afoot to dredge a massive new channel that would result in almost unprecedented destruction of seagrass in Fillman Bayou, with ongoing impacts from heavy boat traffic after construction. Continue reading

Florida: Feds to finalize Kings Bay Manatee protection plan

Proposal would expand protected areas, but a watchdog group says it’s still missing key protections for endangered marine mammals

Manatees gather at King Spring, along Florida's Crystal River, which serves as a warm-water refuge on a 30-degree January day. PHOTO BY JOYCE KLEEN/USFWS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to give more protection to endangered Florida manatees is a step in the right direction, but may fall short of its goals because it leaves some key areas unprotected, according to watchdog group that monitors federal agencies. The plan expands a series of manatee protected areas, but doesn’t propose limits on the number of swim-with operators and doesn’t call for a bans on weights, fins and other propulsion aids that make it easier for people to harass the marine mammals,

The Fish and Wildlife Service in June proposed a permanent extension of previously established emergency rules aimed at what environmental groups say is an ever-increasing harassment of the animals by boaters and divers.

The agency wants to expand an existing series of manatee sanctuaries to encompass all of Kings Bay, on Florida’s central Gulf coast. Under the plan, boating speeds would be restricted and manatee-safe fishing gear would be required. In addition, for the first time FWS would list specific actions, such as chasing or kicking manatees, which would be prohibited but only in Kings Bay.  Continue reading

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