Tourism threat to manatees survival

By Kate Hassett

Tourism threat to manatees survival
Concern is growing for Florida's manatees as tourism leads to dangerous overcrowding.

Earlier this week, National Geographic released a time lapse video depicting the manatee population of Florida’s Three Sisters Springs.

The distressing images show footage of manatees being disturbed by human interference.

The manatees, who swim to the warmer waters to stay alive during winter, flock to the balmy waters of Crystal River when temperatures in other dwellings fall below 20 degrees celsius.

The manatees need to exist in warm water, which is why the waters off Florida’s coast become the perfect hideout for the gentle mammal.

Without refuge from the cold, the “sea cows” can become stressed to the point of death.

As such it has become incredibly important to separate the tourists from the animals, but unfortunately this appears to not be happening.

Timelapse taken while on assignment for @natgeo . @cristinamittermeier and I were shooting both still images for the magazine and this time lapse of manatee/human interactions at the same time. We ended up getting a good still image for the magazine but nothing has been nearly effective as driving the debate of wildlife harassment of these manatees than this time lapse. We were standing on top of an 80 foot tall crane, hanging above the entrance to the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida. US Fish and Wildlife and most tour operators have a strict code of ethic to respect the Manatees and maintain a safe distance while the manatees attempt to stay warm. The perimeter floats are put in place to keep people out but the Manatees go to where the warm water is and not necessarily within the confines of the rope barrier. They are literally trying to stay alive and it is imperative not to disturb them. However, it is hard to keep an eye on everyone and many disregard the rules. You can see people swimming amongst them, grabbing them and even pushing off of them. Then, more boats arrive and eventually there is a large bang from one of the boats and all of the manatees disperse back out into the cold water. We are excited when our work helps tell an important story and drives the conservation debate. To see my favorite images from this coverage please #follow me on @paulnicklen. With @sea_legacy #manatees #nature #wildlife #love #beauty @instagram #picoftheday

A video posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on Sep 26, 2015 at 7:46am PDT

Overcrowding has become an issue that is increasingly hard to ignore in this area. The 6,000 square metre waters are drawing record numbers of manatees, all competing for a place in the warm waters to survive during winter, nurse their calves and restore their health.

Joining them however, is more than 125,000 tourists per season who flock to the waters to get a photo with the West Indian manatees.

“We’ve got more people. We’ve got more manatees. What we don’t have is more space,” said boat captain Michael Birns, president of the Manatee EcoTourism Association of Citrus County.

The images captured by National Geographic show large numbers of manatees crowded into a small space, surrounded by boats, kayaks and swimmers.

One of the most disturbing scenes comes after one of the boats lets off a loud sound and scares the manatees enough to scatter them in all directions.

Conservationists are calling for a closure to the park in winter, to protect the beautiful species and allow them to recharge in peace, but others are calling for limitations surrounding the visiting hours to be lifted.

“Such a high rate of population loss should give us cause to be more concerned about Florida manatees, not less. If manatees are down-listed, they will lose some of the protections granted by the federal government, like compulsory idle speed limits. Pictures speak louder than words and we hope that our work can be used to argue for even stricter regulations that grant these beautiful creatures further protection,” said author Christina Mittermeier, part of the team that photographed the harrowing sights for Nat Geo.



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