Return to the Spring

Wayne Hartley took this photo of a manatee mother and calf at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City.

It’s about to happen.

Manatees will converge at Blue Spring for the winter months, November to March.

Darrell Thomas, park service specialist at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, said he and others are preparing to have thousands of observers as well as people to help answer questions about manatees.

“The daily count changes,” he said of the manatees. “In a season, the most we have had on record is 583 in one given day.”

Mr. Thomas, who has been with the park for about six years, said, “be patient, expect long lines. We are still operating under limited capacity,” which is about 200 vehicles with an average of 1,200 people daily. As people leave, people can come in.

As for the manatees, he said a daily average from month to month varies – December there could be 20 per day, January 300 per day, February 300 per day and March back down to 20 per day.

“It’s all weather related,” Mr. Thomas said. “It’s not a consistent count.”

If you are not able to see the manatees at Blue Spring, one can always check out the webcams at savethemanatee.org by clicking “Manatees” and choosing “Webcams.” There’s an underwater and above water webcam.

Ally Greco, communications and outreach manager of Save the Manatee Club, said it’s the time of year when manatees will return to Florida from the likes of the Carolinas, Louisiana and Texas.

November is Manatee Awareness Month, which began with former Florida Gov. Bob Graham in 1979. It’s when the state started to designate manatee protection zones in areas manatees gather.

“If you’re out boating, it’s just a reminder to be aware of manatees,” Ms. Greco said. “Keep a close eye out for them. During the winter months they are more likely to be in larger groups. (The spring) is a great place for manatees to stay warm.”

Manatees move slowly, surface to breathe air and inhabit freshwater and saltwater ecosystems, she said. Because of this, they are susceptible to collisions with fast-moving boats in shallow areas.

“Obeying posted speeds zones and looking out for manatees is the easiest way to avoid a potentially fatal collision,” she said.

Ms. Greco said there are free resources for boaters at savethemanatee.org/resources, including a reminder that feeding, touching or giving water to manatees will disrupt their natural behavior and could eventually put them in harm’s way.

Save the Manatee Club was started by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffet and Gov. Graham in 1981. There are about 35,000 members nationwide and 2,500 in Volusia County.

“We’re really proud of the research we do there,” Ms. Greco said of Blue Spring. “Our research team can track this mother, who had this calf, and this calf who had this calf – we’re able to track. It’s valuable research. It demonstrates how generations of these manatees use these springs for protection.”

She said the club organizes many events and programs throughout the year. One will be the virtual Save the Manatee 5K, which can be completed on participants’ own time. People have participated from the U.S., Europe, Japan – from all over the world.

In the past 17 years, she said the club has raised more than $243,000 to help protect manatees through that event, she said.

Ms. Greco said in addition to public awareness, the club also supported manatee rescues and rehabilitation. Although the club does not have staff on hand, it supports the efforts of Florida Fish and Wildlife and SeaWorld.

Manatees are listed as a “threatened” species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and are listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Blue Spring is off limits to swimmers and paddlers from November to March.

“It becomes a true manatee sanctuary,” Ms. Greco said.

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