From the Photographer...
It’s a tradition. One Saturday in January, my husband and I pack up our two young daughters, a picnic lunch and our camera to go see the manatees at Blue Spring State Park near DeLand, Florida.
Springs are a safe haven for Florida manatees since they can’t survive in the cold; they’ll migrate many miles to reach freshwater springs, which maintain a temperature in the low 70s year-round.
Earlier in the week, Florida had a cold snap. It’s warmed up today, but we’re pleasantly surprised to see that there is still a count of 171 manatees at the spring. We start walking the boardwalk toward the springhead from the St. Johns River, marveling at the manatees that linger while a large alligator suns himself nearby. The kids just stare in wonder before a full-on nature high sets in—they break into a run to see what’s next.
When we catch up to them, I see a crowd gathering at an overlook. There is a fallen sabal palmetto (or cabbage palm) in the water and about 20 manatees surround it, with many more coming fast and furious from both directions. In all my years coming to this place, I have never seen manatees crowding around something in that way, let alone moving that fast.. My 6 –year-old daughter asks, “What are they doing? Are they eating it?”
Sure enough, they are taking bites of the palm tree! They are literally pushing and shoving each other to get at the freshly fallen tree. These beautiful and wondrous creatures never have a problem captivating an audience, but this is truly a delight. I start snapping away to capture their mouths working on the base of the palm fronds, while others use their flippers to steady themselves on the trunk to get at a hard-to-reach spot.
As a Floridian, I know I’m not alone when I say manatees hold a very special place in my heart. They, and other marine mammals, have inspired me to love nature—even in its less charismatic forms. Days like these, I know my girls are inspired, too.
Find out more about how scientists with The Nature Conservancy in Florida are ensuring the survival of the Florida manatee.
Anna Berardi is Digital Manager at The Nature Conservancy.
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