Manatee Park – Ft. Myers, FL

December 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Posted in Endangered Encounters, For the Family | Leave a comment
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It was a cool morning in Ft. Myers, and when the temperature drops here in Florida something wonderful happens for wildlife lovers – the endangered Manatee makes its way inland to warmer waters.  Despite their large size, manatees only have about 2 inches of body fat and require warm water to avoid hypothermia.  In some parts of the state, manatees migrate to natural springs where the water is a constant 72*.  In other parts, they move toward FPL power plants where warm water is discharged all day and night.  Manatee Park in Ft. Myers is directly across the street from one of these plants, and during “Manatee Season” (November – March) you can often see them here hanging out and keeping warm.  No matter what time of year you go, this is a wonderful family park!  There is a playground for the kids, a butterfly garden, picnicing areas, and a canoe/kayak launch if you have your own as well as a company who rents them out, and weather the manatees are there or not, manatee observation areas with all sorts of manatee educational information and even an underwater microphone so you can hear their little clicks and whistles.

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Toward the very front of the park is where the warm FPL water discharges into the river.  The water here is coming out fast, so there is a strong current.  Up in that area is where we found the most active manatees, swimming against the current, enjoying the warm water, and playing to their little hearts content.  We saw manatees splashing all over the place, tails in the air, even some manatees breeching out of the water.  They really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

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The only sad thing was the reminder of how delicate this endangered species really is.  There were quite a few manatees in the park that had markings on their bodies from boats.  Manatees are slow moving animals and don’t always manage to get out of the way of faster moving boats, these collisions are the top reason for the species decline.  While there are designated “Manatee Zones’ on waterways to slow boaters down in areas that are more popular with this peaceful marine mammal, manatees can’t exactly read to stay within their safely zone, so they aren’t always in safe areas.  While boating, we need to be aware of our surroundings, watch for manatee “footprints” on the waters surface, and try our best to avoid them.  Also, as cute as their begging faces are, people need to resist the urge to feed and water them.  Aside from the legalities as manatees are under protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act AND The Endangered Species Act, both making it illegal to feed them, it also encourages them to approach humans.  While on a boat in Estero back in April, we were observing manatees from a distance, and suddenly we noticed they we looking at us from the edge of our boat… they had no fear of us.  Without a natural fear, or even just disinterest in humans, manatees will put themselves in harms way by approaching boats.

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Surely my favorite part, as always, was the babies!  There were quite a few babies out today, one looking like it was less than a month old.  They were mostly resting but we were lucky enough to see one nursing.  Perhaps the most relieving thing was knowing that even though this is a delicate species, through conservation efforts, their numbers continue to grow.  The little ones always make me smile, it gives me hope that this wonderful creature will be around long enough for my son to appreciate.

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Other manatees were just cruising the canal stretch or resting in the calmer waters.  Some hung out by themselves, others were in pairs and groups.  All in all, we saw dozens of them.  Young and old, playing and sleeping.

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WestCoastNov12 849 On the back side of the park, just beyond the scantuary area, is a boardwalk that extends out over the river.  There was plenty of manatee action back here too, like the barrel rolling manatee above.  This is the area that you can canoe and kayak in and we did see some kayakers out enjoying the beautiful scenic nature and manatees only feet away from them.  While I have never gone kayaking here myself (this was my first visit to Manatee Park and we were on a time restriction so we couldn’t go today) I have heard and read that it is quite an experience, with manatees often approaching you to see what going on.  While you can’t go down the scantuary area as it is gated off above the water, there are still plenty of manatees in the river to be seen.

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IF YOU GO:

Manatee Park is a quick, easy drive off of I-75.  If you’re traveling through the area on a cool day, drop on by, you’ll love what you see!  Learn more about this great family park here…

http://www.leeparks.org/pdf/Manatee_park_trifold.pdf

For more Manatee information, and to see what Florida Power and Light is doing to help these beautiful creatures, visit this…

http://www.fpl.com/environment/endangered/manatee_overview.shtml

If you would like to see Manatees in person, here is a good list of places to check out…

http://www.savethemanatee.org/places.htm

Can’t get to the coast to see Manatees yourself?  Fret not, here are some Manatee Cams to observe wild manatees in their warmer winter homes…

http://www.savethemanatee.org/cs_manatee_cams.html

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