S2S scientists are satellite tagging and tracking manatees in the USA to deepen our understanding of manatee movements, behavior, and habitat.
Tracking Manatees in Florida
Sea to Shore Alliance staff have extensive experience tagging and tracking manatees in Florida and around the world. Satellite tracking is a tool researchers use to answer an array of questions. The ability to locate manatees in the wild and document their habitat use, movements, and behavior is invaluable. We use tracking information to determine how manatees react to the loss of warm water habitat at power plants; the status and importance of foraging habitat; how and where manatees disperse to during migrations in the warmer months; site fidelity — in other words, do manatees return to the same locations year after year? We use the information to characterize manatee behavior; to assess health of animals under various conditions; and to answer other important questions that arise over time. The dataset developed via this method of research is vast and invaluable.
One research project currently underway is using satellite tracking to document how manatees react to the loss of warm water at the Port Everglades power plant in Broward County. The Florida Power & Light Port Everglades Plant closed in January 2013 for modernization. The new plant (called the Port Everglades Next Generation Clean Energy Center–PEEC) will be fully operational in June 2016. The old plant provided warm water refuge for manatees during cold winter months; as many as 454 manatees have been documented utilizing the plant’s warm water effluent during the winter. While the plant is undergoing modernization, it is no longer creating warm water. A temporary heating system was installed to provide some warm water for manatees when winter temperatures drop below a certain threshold. We have tagged eleven manatees near the power plant since 2013. Using satellite telemetry to track these animals, we will assess the potential impact to manatees’ health resulting from the change in warm water availability during and after the modernization process.
While S2S is mainly focused on manatee research in Florida, we are very interested in manatees as they travel further afield during the warmer months. The number of manatee sightings outside Florida has increased over the past decade, as well as the distance of those sightings from Florida. This increased distribution may simply be a factor of increased awareness by citizens on how to spot and report manatee sightings, increased manatee population size, or it could also reflect changes in manatee habitat and/or human disturbance levels in Florida. Though we know that manatees are found in Georgia during warmer months, there is very little information available about their habitat use and movements along the Georgia coast. We are collaborating with partners at the Georgia Aquarium and Georgia Department of Natural Resources to satellite tag manatees in Georgia to document movements, habitat use, and potential warm water sites around Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and coastal Georgia. We plan to increase manatee and educational initiatives along coastal Georgia through our extensive partnership and citizen participation.
Sea to Shore Alliance has partnered with Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) to support manatee research program in Mobile Bay, Alabama and nearby waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. We are assisting Dr. Carmichael and her team by providing our manatee research experience as DISL builds the first manatee research initiative in Alabama. In September 2009, together with SeaWorld Orlando, Sea to Shore Alliance biologists traveled to Alabama and guided a manatee tagging expedition that resulted in two manatees being radio tagged. The team has since tagged a total of ten animals. The data from the study will be used to obtain a better understanding of manatee use of the Mobile Bay and critical habitat in the region. Information generated from the study will aid federal and state authorities to develop conservation actions.