Some 60% of population utilize plants for refuge during winter
If current indicators follow suit, a large percentage Florida’s manatees may soon need a new winter home. Over the next 10-20 years, the state’s coal-fired power plants are expected to close. As 60 percent of the manatee population utilize the plants for refuge during winter, many will be forced to move to the natural springs such as those on the Crystal River. The springs’ constant 74-degree temperatures could soon be overcrowded with the gentle giants.
"Here in King’s Bay we’re the manatee capital of the world," said Ivan Vicen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Citrus County. "We expect a big influx of manatees moving into the springs," added Vicente.
After 37 years of documenting the manatees of Crystal River, Cathy Beck has seen the same manatees at power plants now heading to the springs. "We don’t really know what’s going to happen over the lifetime of those power plants," said Beck.
With experts concerned as to where the manatees will go if power plants go offline, it begs the question where the manatees went prior to the power plants’ construction. "Before the power plant explosion in the '60s, manatees went to spring sites," said Vicente. Today, only a handful of springs remain that manatees can still access. "Some of the spring sites have been developed, dammed by humans for different purposes," said Vicente.
With overcrowding in the remaining springs imminent, many questions as to why the animals don’t venture to warmer waters further south. "Some winters it may be adequate, but some winters even the Everglades isn’t warm enough," said Beck. "It’s very critical that the remaining springs that are available that have access are protected correctly," he added. It now appears a manmade problem requires a manmade solution to preserve the remaining springs for these gentle creatures.