CMA Research Institute monitors manatees throughout the southeast U.S. to understand and document habitat use and to ensure future access to warm water habitat.
Manatees rely heavily on warm water to survive the winters in Florida. They congregate in natural springs, where water temperatures remain consistent (generally around 70-75°F) and power plant outfalls where water temperatures can be even higher. Due to the high potential for warm water habitat loss at power plants in the future (due to plant closures and modifications), natural springs throughout Florida are extremely important habitat for manatees and will only become more important in the future. Understanding current and future habitat needs of the Florida manatee is critical to their survival.
Documenting patterns of manatee use of smaller springs
Due to limited resources only large, primary springs had been routinely monitored for manatee use during a winter season. However, as the manatee population grows and warm water habitat is modified and lost, smaller, secondary springs in central Florida are becoming more important. CMA Research Institute recognizes the importance of these smaller springs and our Research Team has initiated a monitoring program to document manatee use. These springs, such as Deleon Spring, Salt Spring, and Silver Glen Spring, had been visited sporadically by researchers over the past decade but most of the manatee information had been obtained from citizen reports or from National Forest staff at each park. By providing regular monitoring, researchers will be able to document patterns of manatee use. We suspect that over time these springs will increase in importance for the manatee population, and we hope our data will assist with enacting adequate protection for these valuable habitats to ensure their continued availability to manatees in the future. We will continue to seek support for additional monitoring of less well-known springs such as Wekiva Spring, Juniper Spring,Welaka Spring and an assortment of springs located within Silver River.
Documenting manatee responses to the loss of warm water
Additionally, the CMA Research Institute has been very active in documenting manatee response to the loss of warm water due to plant closures and modifications. Using photo-identification and tagging it is possible to describe movements and behaviors of individual manatees following the loss of previously used warm water habitat. This data informs managers on how to manage the inevitable plant closures of the future. Systematic and long-term documentation of manatee use of these critical winter habitats will provide state and federal managers with the information they need to provide further protection for these unique spring habitats.