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Florida will lose manatee warm-water habitats in coming years, officials warn

'We’re going to have to change behaviors'
Posted at 5:32 PM, Nov 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 18:34:34-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Cold weather can be life or death for Florida’s favorite marine mammal. Unfortunately, experts say there will be fewer warm-water refuges for manatees in the coming years.

Power plants along the state’s waterways are shutting down. None of those producing warm-water habitats are expected to last more than 40 years and about two-thirds of Florida's manatees use them.

Manatees can’t handle temps below 68 degrees for long periods. The power plants provide a warm spot for the creatures to live during cold stretches of Florida's winters.

“Warm-water habitat is really important and vital habitat to manatees,” said Ron Mezich, who heads the Florida Wildlife and Fish Commission’s manatee program. “Through regulations or through technology— those plants are going to change and they may not be as sufficient as they are now.”

Mezich said Florida Fish and Wildlife is aware of the growing issue and doesn't want to see the animal fall back on the endangered species list.

Over the last few years, FWC has been taking measures to help. Officials are trying to encourage the mammals to move to warm-water springs.

Not an easy task, said Mezich.

“We want to take advantage of what we have and what’s natural,” he said. “What doesn’t cost us anything to do— just try to get those animals back into the patters that they used to have.”

Specifically, FWC is working to improve protection and access to springs. Many areas have been blocked by dams or other construction over the years.

“We’re going to have to change behaviors,” said Mezich. “That will take some time, but manatees have proven they’re very adaptable.”

Florida has more than 30 major springs. Experts the warm-water sources they have plenty of room. They estimate only about 18 percent of the animals call a spring home.