Fewer manatees expected in South Florida this year
Manatee season starts today on South Florida waterways, as slow-speed zones take effect to protect the tubby marine mammals from being torn up by boat propellers.
But this may be another year in which fewer manatees elect to make the trip south. With another warm winter expected, manatees can remain in Central Florida, where the seagrass they depend on for food is more abundant, rather than streaming south to escape the cold.
As a result, we are unlikely to see as many manatees clustering around the warm-water discharge zones of power plants in Riviera Beach, Port Everglades and Fort Lauderdale west of the airport.
“Our numbers may remain low compared to normal years, as did happen last winter,” said Pat Quinn, Broward County’s manatee coordinator. “We usually have peaks of 600 to 800 manatees observed during a survey flight, but the 2016-17 winter had a peak of just over 300 observed, less than half of average. Still a lot of critters in the water.”
This will be the first season in 50 years that manatees arrive in South Florida without the endangered species label. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year finalized a reclassification of their status to threatened, reflecting what it said was their improved prospects.
But even as a threatened species, manatees retain all the protections they had as an endangered species, with the change in status reflecting only an upgrade in the outlook for