At a Florida state park, about 1,000 manatees have gathered in historic numbers amid a continuing mortality event

A record-breaking number of manatees, nearly 1,000 in total, recently gathered at Blue Spring State Park in Florida. This event is particularly significant given the ongoing challenges faced by the manatee population in the region.

The Gathering at Blue Spring State Park

  • Record Number: Officials counted 932 manatees at Blue Spring State Park, surpassing the previous record of 736 manatees counted on New Year’s Day 2024. This gathering occurred on what was reported as the “coldest morning of the season yet.”
  • Significance: Blue Spring State Park is known as one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in Florida. Manatees are sensitive to cold temperatures and seek out warmer waters during winter. The park’s water maintains a constant temperature of about 72 degrees Fahrenheit, providing a suitable habitat for these marine mammals during colder periods​​.

Ongoing Mortality Event

  • Unusual Mortality Event: Since 2020, Florida manatees have been experiencing an unusual mortality event, with more than 550 deaths reported last year. The leading causes of death include watercraft collisions and disease.
  • Impact of Red Tide: Approximately 20% of these deaths were attributed to a significant red tide bloom. Red tide, caused by the algae Karenia brevis, produces natural toxins that can be lethal for manatees, dolphins, turtles, birds, and even cause health issues for humans.
  • Food Scarcity: Another challenge for manatees has been the significant decline in seagrass and macroalgae, which are crucial food sources. The state has provided supplemental food to the manatees, which helped reduce starvation rates. However, the supplemental feeding program ended at the close of 2023​​.

Importance of the Gathering

The large gathering of manatees at Blue Spring State Park is a positive sign amidst the ongoing challenges faced by the species. It highlights the critical role of protected warm-water habitats for the survival of manatees, especially during colder months.

This event also brings attention to the broader conservation efforts needed to address the factors contributing to the mortality event, such as habitat loss, pollution, and the impact of red tide blooms. Continued monitoring and conservation efforts are crucial to ensure the survival and recovery of Florida’s manatee population.