NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE            Release #:   CHS 16-01

DATE:   January 15, 2016                    Contact:  Ivan Vicente, 563-2088 x211

Record Manatee Numbers counted for Citrus County and Kings Bay

On January 12, staff from the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge conducted the first aerial manatee survey of the year.  Refuge biologists, Joyce Kleen, counted an all-time record of 1042 manatees along the survey route, stretching from the Crystal River Power Plant to the Lower Homosassa River and Blue Waters in Homosassa.  The count results took 4 days to finalize due to the visibility of manatee aggregation areas, only possible to accurately count by printing zoomed photos.  The previous record was 1016 total manatees back in February 15, 2015 during the Statewide Manatee Synoptic Survey.   

Kings Bay counts also show a new record of 758 total manatees for the 600 acre bay.  “That’s 50 more manatees than the previous record of 708 manatees counted last February during the synoptic survey, said Ivan Vicente, Visitor Services Specialist at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.  “These numbers represent an increasing thriving winter manatee population in Citrus County.  The County’s communities, including tour operators, volunteers, community residents and conservation agencies are collectively doing a remarkable job protecting manatees from disturbance, particularly during cold weather events in sensitive areas such as Three Sisters Springs and the Blue Waters.  There could not a better time to celebrate these record numbers than during the Manatee Festival, this weekend”, added Vicente.

During the survey, most manatees in the County were found at the King Spring sanctuary area with a total of 395 manatees counted at surrounding waters of Mullet Hole and King Spring.  The Blue Waters sanctuary numbers totaled 222 manatees, the second highest count ever at that site.  Counts at Three Sisters Springs only totaled 189 manatees due to extreme low tides at the time the survey was conducted.  The ratio of calves to adults found during this survey for Kings Bay was 1:6, with overall preference counted at the King Spring and Three Sisters Springs which represent one of the highest ratios in Florida.  The total ratio of calves to adults for the whole county was comparatively much less, showing only a 1:9 ratio.  “This suggests that Kings Bay is a very safe place for mothers to protect their calves”, added Vicente.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will soon release an environmental assessment with management solutions to the over-crowding issues at Three Sisters Springs for the remaining manatee season and subsequent seasons.  “The USFWS feels confident that it is possible to develop a responsible and sustainable wildlife viewing culture.  Our staff will do what is necessary to continue allowing in-water wildlife viewing opportunities in Three Sisters Springs, while preventing manatees from being disturbed”, added Vicente.   Until the environmental assessment is implemented, the Service will continue the existing management strategy at Three Sisters Springs, including temporary closures during manatee aggregation times in the interior of the springs.  Since the past cold front hit Citrus County on January 10, there’s been 6 straight days of temporary closures at Three Sisters Springs during the high tides, while opening water access to visitors during the low tides. 

The top 5 springs that have hosted the most manatees ever counted at one time in Florida are the following (in order of abundance):  1) Three Sisters Springs (527 manatees on December 27, 2014), 2) Blue Waters State Park in Orange City (414 manatees in February 15, 2015), 3) King Spring Sanctuary, 407 manatees on January 8, 2014), 4) Blue Waters at Homosassa (268 manatees on February 15, 2015), 5) Gator Hole/Magnolia Springs (163 manatees in January 5, 2012).

Staff from Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge believe that the manatee winter population in Citrus County continues to increase due to the protection manatees get at the existing manatee sanctuaries, restricted speed zones, and also due to the increased community awareness and advocacy towards manatee conservation and a better understanding of the connection between manatee protection and the conservation of the local numerous springs.

The exact counts from Tuesday’s count in Citrus County were as follows:

               Tuesday’s count:

               King’s Bay:                                                          660 + 98 calves   =   758                

               Crystal River:                                                          3                        =       3                              

               Salt River:                                                                0                        =       0                          

               Power Plant Discharge Canal:                             10+  1 calf        =      11                                   

               Cross Florida Barge Canal:                                    1                       =       1

               Homosassa River (Blue Waters):                     222 + 26 calves =  248

               Halls River                                                               3                        =      3                          

               Lower Homosassa River:                                     18                       =    18

                                                                        Total:            917 + 125 calves = 1042