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Florida Guide > Miscellaneous

Manatees – an endangered species

The fascinating Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Their numbers in Florida are reducing to the extent that they are now an endangered species and unless man takes more care of their environment their numbers will continue to dwindle and they may eventually die out.

Manatees are large, gentle, slow moving, plant eating mammals and live in the salt and fresh water coastal areas around Florida. An adult manatee can be up to 14 feet long and the female reproductive rate is one calf every two to three years. Calves remain with their mothers for about two and a half years and do not reach maturity until they are four to seven years old. A manatee can live to be as much as sixty years old.

Since 1893 Florida has passed several laws to protect manatees and has been designated as a refuge and sanctuary for these creatures, imposing a fine (or in some cases imprisonment) on anyone who harms or kills a manatee.

The population of manatees is declining for several reasons, apart from their slow breeding rate: Their natural habitats and feeding areas are being reduced as more and more coastal land is being developed for housing and agriculture. The increase of people using boats in the area is affecting them. Manatees are slow swimmers and are often near the surface of the water, so the propellers from boat engines can easily injure, or kill, them. People using their boats responsibly would ease this problem. The quality of the water is not what it used to be and is becoming poorer and poorer due to commercial and agricultural effluent polluting it. Litter left by visitors and boat users can also affect the manatees. Fishing lines, nets and ropes are a particular problem. Carelessly thrown into the water they are a death trap as the manatees can become entangled in them.

In recent years, steps have been taken to try and stop the decline in the manatee population. There are now speed restrictions for boats on many of the coastal waterways to encourage more responsible boat use. Public awareness of the declining population is also increasing and there are many places where manatees can be rehabilitated after injury. There are lots of places within easy driving distance of Orlando where you can spend an afternoon watching them, or even swimming with them. Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is one of the best places, but also try Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge or Blue Spring State Park.

Seaworld has been a big player in the conservation of manatees. It rescues and rehabilitates them and the staff of biologists and vets has been very successful in treating ill and badly injured ones. They are a popular attraction at the park and this also serves to make the public more aware of the plight of the species.

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Page added on: 9 February 2008
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