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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Researchers assess Florida's manatee population and threats

Published February 18, 2008
More than 300 manatees — including those that visit the Wakulla River each year — migrate to Crystal River to bask in the mild spring waters and the warm discharge of the Progress Energy power plant. Data from the manatees is used by researchers to determine whether the population is rebounding or veering toward extinction.

Researchers also worry about manatees that use warm water discharges from power plants to escape the cold. They're concerned that manatees could die in the future if the plants are shut down or they eliminate their discharges. While up to 80 manatees have been spotted at the Crystal River power plant, some plants on the Atlantic Coast and the Southwest Florida Gulf coast have had up to 500 manatees at a time. Those power plants play a more critical role during cold snaps because there are fewer springs in those regions where manatees can seek refuge, said Ron Mezich, a manatee habitat biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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