2009-2010 Save the Manatee Trust Fund Annual Report
A year like no other...
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is pleased to submit this annual report on the expenditures from the Save the Manatee Trust Fund (Trust Fund), per §379.2431(4)(b), Florida Statutes (F.S.). Since the first report was submitted in 1991, this was a year like no other. In 2010, events both natural and man-made created unprecedented challenges for the State's manatee conservation program.
On January 15th, the low temperature in Tallahassee was 30 °F. While that qualifies as cold for most Floridians, it was not a record low. What was a record however, was the fact that it was the 14th straight day in a row of sub-freezing temperatures in Florida's capital city. Similar conditions occurred in many places around the state. Overall- this was a historic cold snap in terms of both duration and magnitude. The persistent cold weather that gripped Florida in January, as well as subsequent periods of lower than normal temperatures, had both acute and chronic impacts on Florida plants and wildlife, including manatees.
When the mercury drops, manatees head for warm waters like those found at power plant discharges and artesian springs. That is the cue for scientists to take to the air for the annual manatee synoptic survey. This year, during the second week of January, FWC scientists and partners observed a record 5,076 manatees. This surpassed the previous high count by more than 1,200 manatees. While the media and manatee lovers were celebrating the record count, FWC staff were bracing for what they knew would be sure to follow: cold-stressed manatees. These worst fears were realized. From January through April, 503 manatee carcasses were reported and at least 252 were attributed to the cold. The majority of the carcasses with undetermined cause of death (197) was likely due to the unprecedented weather.
This cold event made Fiscal Year (FY) 2009-2010 the worst year on record for manatee deaths, with a total of 756 deaths in Florida and another nine outside state waters. The excitement over the record manatee count was short-lived.
Then, on April 20 2010, another disaster struck. The Deepwater Horizon oil platform burned and sunk to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and began what would become the world's largest accidental oil spill. FWC played a critical role in the response to this disaster and staff members that work with manatees were an integral part of the FWC team. Response and rescue plans were developed, and marine mammal rescue equipment was moved to staging locations in preparation for the possible worst-case scenarios. Some staff was recruited to work in the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which operated seven days a week.
Other activities included flying reconnaissance missions looking for manatees, dolphins, and other sea life and documenting the distribution of manatees and condition of habitat coincident with impacted areas. Fortunately, this man-caused disaster did not have any known immediate impacts on manatees in that no manatee deaths or res-cues have been attributed to the spill so far. However, possible long-term impacts, including impacts to manatee habitat, are not known at this time.
Of course, throughout the year there were other issues and activities outside of the cold weather event and the oil spill that affected manatee populations. This report provides an overview of progress, accomplishments, and challenges related to manatee conservation and research that occurred this past fiscal year. These activities are possible because of funding from the Save the Manatee Trust Fund. The Trust Fund received money from sales of manatee license plates and decals, boat registration fees, and voluntary donations. Revenues for FY 2009-2010 totaled $3,909,653. Appropriations from the Trust Fund for the same period were $4,039,099. In FY 2009-2010, the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation spent $1,037,125 for species management and conservation activities and the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute spent $1,728,929 on research and monitoring.
The events of this year demonstrated that unexpected and unplanned events can present significant challenges for efforts to conserve and recover species that are endangered or threatened. Fortunately, the State of Florida, along with its partners, has a very robust manatee conservation program in place that allows the agency to meet these unexpected challenges. Decades of conservation have helped contribute to growing manatee numbers that provide much needed resiliency as we face an uncertain future. Priority conservation work as outlined in the state manatee management plan will provide a better under-standing of the impacts of primary threats, such as severe cold snaps and loss of warm water, on manatee population growth.