NCBS Intern Report: Surveying Manatees in Crystal River, FL
NCBS Intern Report by Margaret Long and Rebecca Rash, Interns with UF IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station and Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
During winter, the Gulf of Mexico temperatures can drop below 68 degrees, sending manatees into Florida’s springs for refuge in the warmer freshwater. The springs in Kings Bay, like Three Sisters Springs, House, and Jurassic, stay at a constant 72 degree Fahrenheit, allowing hundreds of manatees to congregate during cold weather. The public springs also serve as a recreation site full of boats, waterfront homes and condos, paddlecrafts, swimmers, and snorkelers.
Ecotourism has surged in Crystal River, with manatee tours as the main draw for tourists around the world. Understanding the interactions and behavior patterns of manatees and humans is crucial to managing the springs effectively to preserve the awe-inspiring manatee sightseeing as well as manatee and environmental health. As interns, we conducted a three-month research study in the spring to monitor manatee and people use of the springs, environmental conditions, and manatee and human interactions.
Spending the Day on the Water
The project often began with prepping the kayaks for launch. This included waterproof clipboards and paper, pens, water, snacks, and a PFD. Once the equipment was ready to go, we launched out into Kings Bay and made the 1+ mile paddle out to House and Jurassic. From these springs, we observed and recorded the behaviors and interactions, as well as educated the public. The other half of the day was spent on the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs, conducting the same research from land.
The Takeaway? Crystal River was beautiful, with an abundance of wildlife, including wading and diving birds, alligators, otters, turtles, mullet, and of course, manatees. The water was often clear and calm, some areas blanketed by grasses. One of the most important aspects of this research was the understanding that educating the public was a duty and a privilege in order to help the layperson understand the beauty and fragility of this habitat. We learned so much about the management of a refuge, manatee behavior, and conducting an effective and thorough research project. As we further our careers, we will look back on this internship as not only fun and exciting, but also as a tool to deepen our understanding of what a career in natural resources means.