Check into the lodge at Wakulla Springs State park on a crisp cool evening and you are immediately greeted with the warmth of an open hearth fireplace and the security of stone walls radiating comfort and solace. These stately accommodations meet all your needs for refuge and rejuvenation with opportunities for an old fashion game of chess or checkers, great food, and time to reconnect with cherished friends and family.
Wakulla Springs hosts about 200,000 visitors each year and is one of North Florida’s most popular swimming spots with peak attendance between April and August. It’s a great place to beat the heat on a hot summer’s day. The same cool 250 million gallons of 69F degree water that provides welcome relief to visitors on hot summer’s day also provides an inviting warm refuge on winter’s coldest days to another type of park guest, manatees.
Wakulla Springs is the Gulf of Mexico’s northernmost geographic location where manatees congregate and consistently overwinter in large numbers. Last week, park guides estimated 30 individuals in the springs and river run.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation and Commission / Florida Wildlife Research Institute’s winter synoptic aerial survey of Florida’s manatees in 2011 totaled 4,834 individuals. Improved survey techniques have resulted in increased estimates for Florida manatees in recent years, however, they still remain listed as endangered.
Consistent water temperatures below 65F can result in stress, pneumonia, or colds in manatees. Other environmental conditions can also cause problems for manatees. This year, a large number of Florida manatee moralities have been reported as a result of a harmful algal bloom on the Atlantic Coast in the Indian River Lagoon. Florida manatees are also frequently struck by boat hulls and boat motor propellers; the signs of which are often seen in individuals with tell-tale propeller scars.
Education and stewardship are two of the best ways to help manatees. You can connect with these Florida ambassadors locally on a Wakulla Riverboat Tour at the State Park or through outfitters that provide kayaks and local guiding knowledge. Simple changes in home practices that protect water quality also protect the water resources used by manatees and other wildlife. Observing manatee protection zones and reducing boat speed also have been shown to reduce the impact of boating activities on manatees. To report sick or dead manatees, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Read more manatee facts in the following UF/IFAS publication: Life in the Sea.