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300-Manatee Gathering Shuts Down Florida Wildlife Refuge

posted: 02/09/16
by: Danny Clemens
Manatees gather in Three Sisters Spring for the night
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Manatees gather in Three Sisters Spring for the night in August 2011.
Barcroft Media/Getty Images

The United States Fish & Wildlife Service temporarily shut down part of Florida's Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge after three hundred manatees gathered within a one-acre area on Monday.

Manatees Three Sisters Springs 020816

Video of manatees outside Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River Florida this morning. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 300 manatees were using the spring as a warm water shelter this morning.

Posted by Citrus County, Florida :: The Water Lover's Florida on Monday, February 8, 2016

While a congregation of 300 is remarkable, it's not entirely uncommon for manatees to gather en masse at Three Sisters Springs, as a hot spring feeds into the area in question. During colder months, hot springs provide manatees with much-needed relief from falling water temperatures.

Last year, a similarly large and potentially record-setting gathering also forced the temporary closure of Three Sisters Springs:

Winter brought a traffic jam this week to Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida http://1.usa.gov/13ViubB....

Posted by USFWS National Wildlife Refuge System on Thursday, February 5, 2015

 

The area is regularly open to kayaking and guided diving, although park authorities reserve the right to restrict water access when conditions are "such that the addition of visitors may disturb resting manatees," according to a statement.

See Also: Rare Pink Dolphin Might Be Pregnant

The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is protected by both federal and state laws that "make it illegal to 'take' (i.e., harm, harass, injure, kill, etc.) manatees," FWS explains. In the 1990s, there were an estimated 1,267 manatees in Florida waterways. Thanks to concerted conservation efforts over the past 25 years, the manatee population has risen to an estimated 6,300 animals.

To this day, the species continues to be threatened by boat traffic. According to the most recent data, collisions with watercraft account for nearly 80 manatees deaths in Florida each year. The loss of warm water habitats -- such as Three Sisters Springs -- also impacts the species' ability to survive during colder months.

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