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Fw: Record Number of Manatees Counted in Florida

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  • Martin Keeley & Claudette Upton
    ... Martin A. Keeley Education Director, Mangrove Action Project Gen. Delivery, Watering Place P.O. Cayman Brac Cayman Islands Tel: (345) 948-0319 Fax: (345)
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2001
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      >> Record Number of Manatees Counted in Florida
      >> Jennifer Mapes for National Geographic News
      >> January 10, 2001
      >>
      >> The Florida Marine Research Institute has hand-counted 3,276 manatees
      >> in the state. Sometimes called "sea cows" because of their large,
      >> unwieldy stature, the Florida manatees are endangered species.
      >>
      >> Scientists have counted Florida's population of endangered sea cows.
      >> At 3,276, the number of manatees found in Florida this weekend far
      >> exceeded the expectations of Florida wildlife officials.
      >>
      >> "We were pleasantly surprised with how high [the count] is," said
      >> Bruce Ackerman, a marine mammal biologist with the Florida Marine Research
      >> Institute (FMRI). "Manatees are holding their own for now."
      >>
      >> From 16 planes, with help from land and sea crews, researchers
      >> attempted to count all manatees living in Floridian waters.
      >>
      >> Ackerman said he believes the count accurately reflects the total number
      >> of manatees living in Florida. But, he said, there are always some
      >> manatees that escape detection.
      >>
      >> "It's a lot like the U.S. census," he explained.
      >>
      >> SAVING THE MANATEE: A COMMUNITY EFFORT
      >>
      >> The 3,276 manatees counted by the FMRI are a subspecies that lives
      >> along Florida's coast. Other manatees inhabit Caribbean, South
      >>American, and
      >> western tropical African waters. Some of the largest populations of
      >> manatee live in Belize and Brazil, Ackerman said.
      >>
      >> Manatee numbers, he noted, are more likely to be going down in all
      >> those other countries.
      >>
      >> The future of the manatee in U.S. waters is less clear. Their
      >> population seems to be slowly increasing, but they remain sensitive to human
      >> activities. The manatee, which can weigh up to 1,300 pounds (600
      >> kilograms), has been protected by law since 1907 and is covered by the
      >> 1973 Endangered Species Act.
      >>
      >> This protection serves humans in addition to the animals, according to
      >> the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as manatees play an important role
      >> in Florida's marine ecosystem. The sea-dwelling vegetarians eat up to
      >> 100 pounds of aquatic plants a day, clearing up weed-choked waterways
      >> that plague boaters.
      >>
      >> Boats, however, remain the primary enemy of the slow-moving creature.
      >> Each year, more than 50 manatees are killed by collisions with
      >> watercraft, and many additional manatees are injured by the blades of
      >> motorboats. Manatees are also threatened by habitat destruction and
      >> pollution, and can be crushed by closing canal locks.
      >>
      >> HOPING FOR A HIGH COUNT
      >>
      >> Despite these man-made dangers, past surveys have shown a slow
      >> increase in Florida's manatee population. A January 1991 aerial count showed
      >> 1,268 manatees, but recent counts have reached over 2,000. Ackerman
      >> said he expected this year's count to be high because of weather
      >> conditions favorably to the count.
      >>
      >> Water temperature plays a role in the number of manatees counted, he
      >> said, as colder weather causes the manatees to move toward the waters
      >> surface, where they are more easily counted. Despite this week's high
      >> count, weather and other factors make it difficult to predict the
      >> future of the manatee in Florida from hand counts. "You really can't say
      >>from
      >> these counts alone," said Ackerman. "It's difficult to estimate the
      >> trend at all."
      >>
      >> This year's count comes on the heels of a legal settlement between the
      >> U.S. government and several pro-manatee groups. The groups alleged
      >> that the government was not implementing or enforcing existing manatee
      >> protections, resulting in an increased number of manatee fatalities
      >> caused by watercraft.
      >>
      >> Under settlement terms, the Fish and Wildlife Service will be required
      >> to establish new manatee refuges and sanctuaries throughout Florida.
      >> The service will also be required to regulate U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
      >> construction, assuring that it will have no more than a negligible
      >> effect on the manatee.
      >> - - -
      >>
      >> Will Manatees Be Left Out in the Cold?
      >>
      >> Rescuers recently evacuated three manatees from the vicinity of a
      >> non-operating power plant in Jacksonville, Florida. One of the rescued
      >> females appeared to be suffering from cold trauma.
      >>
      >> Fifty years ago, manatees "who have difficulty surviving when
      >> temperatures dip below 68 degrees (20 C)" rarely ventured as far north
      >> as Jacksonville in the winter, but warm water discharged as a
      >> byproduct from power plants has created warm winter havens for the
      >>endangered
      >> sea cows, luring them to stay in their summer range.
      >>
      >> As some of the older power plants in the state have been closing, or
      >> not operating because their power is not needed, the possibility of
      >> manatees suffering frostbite or freezing to death has become a serious
      >>issue.
      >>
      >> "It's an issue that needs to be addressed "I don't know if anyone fully
      >> understands the relationship between the manatees and the warm water
      >> discharge," said David Arnold of the Florida Bureau of Protected
      >> Species Management.
      >>
      >> So far, power plants have been cooperative, agreeing to continue
      >> discharging warm water for the manatees, but if the cost of operating
      >> unnecessary power plants rises, that may come into question, says
      >> Arnold.
      >>
      >> "The animals are surviving further north than their historical range,"
      >> says Arnold. "If we remove their [warm water], they may not be able to
      >> respond." Lisa Krause
      >> ------------------------------------

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      Martin A. Keeley
      Education Director, Mangrove Action Project
      Gen. Delivery, Watering Place P.O.
      Cayman Brac
      Cayman Islands
      Tel: (345) 948-0319
      Fax: (345) 948-0640
      e-mail: mangrove@...
      web site: http://www.earthisland.org/map/map.html
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