Manatee Madness

I’m working on a story about environmental threats to the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), and the unusual mortality events in which both manatees and dolphins are dying in record numbers in 2013.

The story is mostly about how development impacts the water quality in the IRL, and how that might affect the health of manatees and dolphins. But humanity also poses a direct threat to manatees, both from boat strikes as well as from wanting to get close to lovable manatees.

Treehugger recently posted a story about the latter problem, featuring a saddening time-lapse video of all the human activity around a favorite manatee winter gathering spot–a place where they are trying to keep warm and conserve energy in the winter:

Here, in a timelapse video made by Mittermeier and fellow photographer Neil Ever Osborne, you can see just how much interaction the manatees are forced to deal with all day, every day. You’ll even see a manatee stampede, which happens when a sudden loud noise onshore scares them. Mittermeier states that this happens several times a day. The video reveals just how little space manatees get for themselves, and how much more protection we need to be offering these animals who are, we cannot forget, members of an endangered species.

It doesn’t look very restful for the manatees. And the exclusion area set up is pathetically small.┬áThis is one of the many paradoxes of humanity: we often harm even the things we say we love.

Man and Manatee

Paul Nicklen really is the most extraordinary photographer. This new photoset perfectly captures the conservation dilemmas created by human intrusion on the manatee habitat and the human desire to get close to manatees. Stunning work:

The Florida manatee is thriving in Kings Bay, and so is tourism.
Kayaks crowd Three Sisters Springs, where people and manatees maintain a controversial coexistence. To reach the warm water they need to survive winter, manatees often must run a gantlet of kayakers
and snorkelers eager to interact with the marine mammals.
Expanding residential, commercial, and agricultural development in Florida often requires increased pumping of groundwater. The resulting loss of flow from natural springs reduces wintering habitat for manatees.
Scientists and volunteers capture manatees to gather statistics on their age, size, and physical condition.

The thing that Nicklen conveys so well is that even when humans have benign or even positive intentions the degree of interference and impact on the environment and lives of non-human species is deeply disruptive.

The full photoset is here, and each photo is as powerful as the next. You can look at more of Nicklen’s work here.