Tag Archives: Florida

Florida Manatees in Peril

Snowbirds are not the only winter visitors to the temperate springs of Florida. Those waterways also draw the Florida manatees to sapphire blue pools. These gentle creatures called me to the Central West coast of Florida. Stepping stone grey, like their elephant relatives, manatees are hard to miss in the crystal-clear headwaters. Twelve feet long and sausage shaped, their two flippers and a spoon shaped tail provide locomotion.

Visiting manatees at Blue Spring State Park in Florida.

My first stop was Ellen Schiller State Park in Homosassa. There are many animals to see in this small zoo for animals unable to survive on their own in nature. I gravitated to the manatees. Within the natural springs, an above and below water floating observation area allows visitors an up close and personal experience with these giants. When I arrived 30 or so manatees lazed and lounged just a few feet away from me. I could have watched for hours as they floated by, mothers teaching their pups to play, others seemingly asleep. It was a treat to see as manatees are wild creatures and come to the springs on their own schedule.

My next manatee encounter was at on the Chassahowitzka River. Manatees grazed and played in the warm waters as we floated above and watched in fascination. It was so fun to watch them rest then playfully dive around our boats. Most of the paddlers around were quiet as to not disturb the manatees. Many had deep scars along their backs from run ins with boat propellors.

Blue Spring State Park counted 649 manatees the day I visited

At Blue Spring State Park I saw the most manatees at one time. The morning I was there, park employees counted 649 manatees in the springs! The warm waters filled with manatees from shore to shore was an unforgettable sight for me. They huddled together, escaping the colder water for the warmer temps in the natural springs. We walked hundreds of feet along the water alongside these beautiful creature.

Manatees from shore to shore.
manatee with boat propeller scars
This is one of the many manatee I saw with boat propeller scars

Manatees have scarce body fat and cannot survive water temps below 68 degrees (F). When ocean temperatures drop, they swim into natural springs or ponds heated by power plants where they can stay warm. Manatees are vegetarians, and dine on seagrass. It takes a lot of food to supply their 1,000-pound body with the energy needed for daily activity.

Like all mammals, manatees breathe air and it takes mountains of effort for the colossal bodies to surface. Often, they poke just their nostrils above the of the water for a quick inhale every five minutes or so. Then they sink back down, lounging in a bed of grass. Sometimes, they will use their flippers to “walk” along the floor as they nibble.

Hindering their population is their low reproductive rate. It takes about five years before manatees are sexually mature. Gestation is 11 months and single births occur two to five years apart. Calves stick close to their moms for the first two years of life as they learn the ways of the wild.

Manatee numbers dwindled to a few hundred in the 1970s and there was concern they would soon become extinct. In 1981, a “Save the Manatee” public awareness campaign launched, founded by then Florida Governor Bob Graham and well-known entertainer Jimmy Buffett. No wake zones were established in areas manatees often visit to prevent collisions with boats. Some springs no longer allow swimming during the winter months when the animals are in the area. By 2015, the population had increased to over 6,000 and the manatees were removed from the Federal Endangered Species list in 2017.

Sadly, by recent count, less than 5,000 Florida manatees remain. During 2021 at least 1,101 of these beautiful mammals died. Even worse, 2022 is on track to be the deadliest year for them with 97 deaths in January alone.

What is causing this die off? Natural causes, illness and infant mortality are a major reasons for these deaths which may be unavoidable. Deaths that we CAN reduce are those due to human interference of one kind or another.

Boating strikes

When they are not resting just below the surface, manatees float along at 3-5 mph. They are no match for boats propellers speeding through the water. Resulting deep gashes along a manatee’s back are often deadly. Those that do survive can be easily identified by their scars.

Algae blooms

Use of fertilizer on home lawns, golf courses and agriculture fields contribute to runoff that causes algae to form in waterways. Red tides produce toxins manatees digest when they eat. These deadly toxins can poison and kill the gentle mammal.


Florida is growing in population and homes sprawl from the Gulf to Atlantic coasts. New construction impacts existing flow of water across the state, reducing habitat and damaging existing feeding grounds.

Cold water temperatures

Manatees cannot survive sustained cool water temps. Waters around Florida get chilly in winter. Manatees take refuge in the multitude of springs which remain 72 degrees year-round. If the cold spell is prolonged, they depend on emergency feeding by humans, mostly Romain lettuce, to keep up their strength. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission oversees supplemental feeding.

Human interaction

Manatees stress out when people chase or harass them while they rest. Like all mammals, stress takes a toll on them and leads to shorter lifespan. Several of the springs are off limits for recreational use in the winter to allow manatees to exist undisturbed. Other sites restrict swimming but may allow use of kayaks, canoes or stand-up paddle boards.

What can you do to help?

  • Check out the resources at Save the Manatee.
  • When visiting Florida, learn manatee etiquette and how to protect the remaining population.
  • Consider making a donation to help save the Florida manatee.
  • Raise awareness with others by sharing stories about the plight of the manatee.

The Florida manatee is an amazing creature to observe. It would be a great loss to us all if we allow them to fade away forever like the Steller’s sea cow, a close relative of theirs which is now extinct. Visit Florida and stop by the many state parks that are winter home to manatees. Enjoy watching them eat, play and rest. A day with the manatees will warm your heart!

The Thrill of the Hunt Geocaching in Hawaii

Have you heard about geocaching?

I discovered I could incorporate several activities I enjoy within a single hobby. I like spending time with my family and friends, solving puzzles, seeking out new adventures, exercising and being environmentally “green”. Geocaching is treasure hunting with a GPS receiver. You can search for geocaches online by zip code and download the coordinates into your hand held GPS unit. You seek out hidden geocaches based on longitude and latitude.

Sometimes the jackpot is as small as a prescription pill container with a piece of paper rolled up inside so you can log your visit. Some containers are so tiny; you need to bring your own pencil. Other containers are as large as a Tupperware food saver or an army surplus ammunition box filled with trinkets. Our geocaching equipment includes a bag of tchotchkes that we swap based on the theme of the geocache.

For me though, the fun is not in finding the treasure, but the thrill of the hunt. We geocache while in Hawaii as an activity to challenge our brain and seek out new adventures.

This is a hobby the both family and friends can participate in. My husband and I often take others with us to introduce them to the hobby. We took keiki with us to the Honolulu Zoo to find their first cache. When we return to the island, their first question for us is “Are you going to go geocaching?” Other times we need subject matter expertise. One of the geocaches in the North Shore, Hawaii required solving a puzzle to figure out the coordinates. Ten car logos were pictured from different auto manufactures around the world. After identifying the car model and country of origin, the digits of the location could be determined. I recruited a couple of world traveling gear heads to help figure out that one out.

Williams Family geocaching at the Honolulu Zoo

Williams Family geocaching at the Honolulu Zoo

While geocaching we learn about local history. A geocache is hidden on the estate of the last reigning Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lydia Liliuokalani. The site overlooks the drainage canal built to convert water logged taro fields into dry land becoming Waikiki.

A multi-stage geocache requires several stops. At each site you visit, you find clues to identify the next location. We learned about local leaders during a 5 stage history tour to five statues along Waikiki. Each statue had a plaque which told a story. There is Father Damien, who came from Belgium, to Hawaii in 1864. He devoted the rest of his life to the leper settlement on the island of Molokai before succumbing to the disease himself. He has been nominated for sainthood. During the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy led by U.S. business men, Princess Kaiulani spearheaded a campaign to restore the throne. Beloved native son, Duke Kahanamoku, born of Hawaiian royalty, was a swimming sensation earning Five Olympic medals. “The Duke”, starred in Hollywood movies and is known as “The father of modern surfing.”

You can get a good workout in a day hiking up Diamond Head, the extinct volcano which stands at the east end of Waikiki. If you have comfy shoes, cache your way around the volcano on foot enjoying a heart healthy work out and spectacular views of the Pacific, Waikiki and downtown Honolulu.

Get away from the crowds and cache in Kailua. There are finds along both the busy and the quiet parts of the beach. Don’t forget your sunscreen and snorkel gear. You’ll be hungry after a day of swimming and caching. Check out the yummy handmade cookie store in town for a snack.

When you are on Oahu, you don’t have to go far to find these treasures. There are hundreds of local finds. From the crowded pedestrian malls of Chinatown to the top of Diamond Head to the shores of Kailua, there is a cache for every interest and ability.

While we are getting our exercise, learning about the area and catching up with friends and family, we also pick up trash. We carry in a couple of empty garbage bags to snatch up any litter we spy while we are out. This is referred to as “cache in, trash out”.

You can learn more about the hobby at geocaching.com. I enjoy the opportunity to combine time with my family, brain exercise, and physical activity all in one hobby. If you like history, culture and the great outdoors, you should give geocaching a try.

Profile for Diamond Head