Park Opens Spring for Wild Manatees
For the first time in 30 years, wild manatees are able to enter the spring bowl at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida Park Service recently opened the gate to allow wild manatees to enter the spring bowl at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park for the first time in 30 years. Event guests included representatives from DEP’s Florida State Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Save the Manatee Club and other partners and supporters.
“We are thrilled to hold this landmark event at Homosassa Springs in coordination with our partners,” said DEP’s Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione. “This is an important component of the park’s participation in manatee conservation and brings these majestic animals back into their natural winter sanctuary.”
"This event commemorated the opening of the bridge gate that separates rehabilitating manatees in the spring bowl and wild manatees in the spring run."
This event commemorated the opening of the bridge gate that separates rehabilitating manatees in the spring bowl and wild manatees in the spring run. This is the first time the gate has been opened since it was constructed nearly 30 years ago, before the park was acquired by the state in 1989. Members of the manatee conservation community have for many years hoped that the bridge gate could be opened for the wild manatees that winter in the Blue Waters area outside the park from November to March.
“Today marked an important and significant step forward for manatee conservation as recent history reminded us that open access to Florida’s network of warm water springs is crucial to manatee winter survival,” said supervisor for the FWS North Florida Ecological Services Office Dave Hankla. “Homosassa Springs’ accommodation of the wild population during the winter underscores the Florida Park Service’s commitment to long-term manatee conservation and recovery. This day also reflects the substantial research effort our manatee rehab partners made in furthering our understanding of the manatee papilloma virus; without which our collective decision to take this step would not have been possible.”
A separation fence installed within the spring in February to provide for improved manatee rehabilitation made the gate opening possible. Homosassa Springs’ eight captive manatees have been placed behind the separation fence in the spring bowl, allowing the remainder of the spring bowl to be available for wild manatees. The gate underneath the bridge will be closed when the wild manatees have left the spring at the end of the season, usually March, and the rehabilitating manatees will again have the entire spring bowl for their use.
A Center for Manatee Rehabilitation
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has been a participant in the FWS Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program for 30 years, and has helped rehabilitate more than 40 injured manatees during that time. FWS is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Just this year, 10 new manatees have come into Homosassa Springs for rehabilitation, some of whom have already been released to the wild. Homosassa Springs will continue to rehabilitate manatees, and in addition, will continue to provide excellent manatee education and interpretation programs to Florida’s citizens and visitors.
Funding for the new gates within the spring was provided by the Save the Manatee Club as a continued supporter of manatee conservation and the park. Other important park supporters at the event included the Felburn Foundation, the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, the Citrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce.
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