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Manatee research funding critical to species survival

Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 02, 2016

Four manatees are safely in Safety Harbor after veterinarians relocated them Thursday and Friday from Lake Tarpon.

The veterinarians also collected samples from the manatees for research. 

The manatees were stuck in Lake Tarpon after Tropical Storm Colin. The rescuers were concerned the  water could get too cold for them to survive the winter. Their goal now is to gather samples and make sure the manatees are healthy.

“It will help us learn more about diseases that they carry, bacteria, viruses that can threaten manatees,” said veterinarian Martine DeWit at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

It’s work that takes funding to accomplish.

“We struggle to get funding to do these kinds of things," said Bob Bonde, al biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. "It’s a complex job. I’m not getting any younger, can’t continue to do this, so we have to be cognizant of what’s going to happen when some of the old guard retire and new people come in.” 

Bonde has been studying manatees for 40 years and securing federal dollars for research. But he plan to retire soon.  

“The part of coming up and asking people for funding for help with these long-term projects is a difficult talk,” Bonde said.

Researchers will have to convince the people with the money that maintaining manatee habitats are important even if manatees are moved from the endangered list to the threatened list.

"No matter what, they are still facing many threats,” DeWit said. “We have to try to protect them from those threats, and we cannot do that without funding.”

FWC is set to assess more manatees in Crystal River on Dec. 13.